A Bill of Rights for professional educators in FE and Skills

Frank Coffield.

By using the term “professional educators”, we wish to include tutors, teachers, lecturers, assessors, curriculum developers, mentors, counsellors, career advisers, administrators, personal assistants, technical and support staff, vocational and academic specialists. In short, all the myriad types of innovators, risk-takers and life-changers who together constitute the professionals in the FE and Skills sector.

The education system belongs to us all

Today, 15th June 2015, marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta when the English barons rose in rebellion against the autocratic rule of King John. In education the scale of the problem is clearly different, but the need for a new settlement of powers between politicians and practitioners is just as pressing. Over the last 30 years the powers of the Secretary of State for Education in England have grown (and continue to grow) enormously, are dangerously undemocratic and urgently need to be curtailed. The Secretary of State, for example, can and does decide in great detail not only what has to be taught in our schools and colleges, but how. A national system of education belongs to us all – students, parents, employers, educators and members of local communities – it is not the private possession of the Secretary of State, but it has become so. Torrents of state policy cascade down the system, pressurising college managements to comply, with the result that colleges have become exam and skills factories without a democratic, collegial or even educational ethos.

I am a founder member of a new association called Tutor Voices that has come together to demand change and we have written this Bill of Rights for Professional Educators to begin that process. If you agree with the ideas expressed, join us in our campaign for change by contacting us via TutorsVoices@mail.com. The barons of England wrested power from what many people at the time thought was an all-powerful and invincible monarch and their eventual success led to the start of our parliamentary democracy. We will continue that work by firmly insisting on the following basic rights and responsibilities for professional educators:

10 basic rights and responsibilities

  1. Educators have the right and the responsibility to become by law equal, social partners (with government, employers, students, parents, trade unions, community representatives and citizens) in the formation, enactment and evaluation of all policy which affects their professionalism. The way to ensure such representation is to make it a statutory obligation on government so that representatives of the profession participate in policy decision-making as of right – at national, regional, local and institutional levels.
  2. Control over methods of teaching, learning and assessment will be returned from politicians to professional educators.
  3. Teaching in the sector will be carried out solely by fully trained staff. A ban will be introduced on unqualified teachers working in any educational institution supported by state funds.
  4. Educators have the responsibility and the right to engage in continuous professional learning of the highest quality. They will be in charge of deciding what professional learning is appropriate to their needs.
  5. Educators need dedicated time, space and support to learn, but these activities have never been properly funded. So tutors as well as students, businesses and communities depend on strong, stable and well-resourced institutions, where simplified funding streams and three-year budgets provide continuity and equity, with spending per student on a par with Higher Education.
  6. The prevailing character within and between our institutions will change from micro-management, fear and competition to mutual trust, dialogue and collaboration.  The aim is to create a community of learning in each and every institution in the sector and networks of such co-operative communities in each locality.
  7. Educators have the responsibility and right to become a fully research-informed profession, where evidence is used to sharpen up the decisions not only about what works in pedagogy but, more significantly, what is educationally desirable. The curriculum should amount to more than qualifications and narrow, quantifiable outcomes; it should also address the major threats to our collective well-being.
  8. Members of the teaching profession have the right to be inspected by fellow experts, who are knowledgeable and experienced in the subject, discipline or vocational area being inspected. Educators are concerned not about accountability, which is essential to ensure that standards are uniformly high, but about the form it should take. The current framework of inspection will be abandoned and a new approach adopted, geared to support and improvement rather than punishment and compliance with government policy.
  9. Educators are entitled to a private life apart from teaching, but the demands of bureaucracy, accountability and management by data, targets and performance indicators are making this reasonable condition almost impossible. Workloads need to be drastically reduced and altered to allow educators to concentrate more on teaching than on administration.
  10. Educators have the right to work in supportive, enabling institutions, which actively support equality and diversity; and where all tutors are dedicated to professional learning and to acquiring the habit of democracy by which is meant acting in accordance with our democratic history, values and practices.

Enhancing teaching and learning

Taken together these 10 rights and responsibilities will enhance the professional status of educators. More importantly, they will also serve to enhance the learning of our students because the two are intimately connected: as the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign in the US succinctly puts it in its Education Declaration to Rebuild America, “the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students”.

For a fuller treatment of these arguments, see Coffield, F. (2014) Beyond Bulimic Learning: improving teaching in Further Education, IOE Press.

Frank Coffield will be discussing these rights at the ATL conference on Friday 10th July.

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Posted in Education policy, Further higher and lifelong education, Leadership and management
6 comments on “A Bill of Rights for professional educators in FE and Skills
  1. To the comprehensive list of Rights ,how about adding
    The responsibility of communicating dignifyingly for the Educational good of Humankind ?
    As a peace linguist-educator, I´ve been advocating that in my works. See,for instance,
    Dignity.A Multidimensional view. Oregon: Dignity Press, 2013

  2. Great piece! I’ve been pushing for this quite a while now through http://www.ordinaryvoices.org.uk
    If we don’t exert pressure, politics will continue to dominate education professionalism and the reform of the service.

    Let your voice be heard – sign up today!!

  3. Excellent piece Frank! Senior managers in colleges and the AoC would do well to show support for this as a demonstration of galvanising energies and resistance among the FE workforce. Whether or not they do remains to be seen, but the failure to do so will also tell its own story!

    Keep up the great work

  4. […] To mark Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary this week Tutor Voices have published A Bill of Rights for professional educators in FE and Skills. […]

  5. Dr Andrew Boocock says:

    This Bill of Rights is the necessary antidote to the marketisation of education, managerialism, deprofessionalisation and depoliticisation of FE professionals in post compulsory education. Unfortunately it is a naive dream whilst the neoliberal ideology (ever faster down the wrong road) continues to dominate and the austerity cuts continue to bite. Policy amnesia rules whilst research is ignored.

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This blog was written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), for anyone interested in current issues in education and related social sciences.
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