The EIS-FELA Annual Conference on Friday, 24th March saw the end of an era, with Charlie Montgomery, the last of the four lay negotiators who helped deliver national terms and conditions for lecturers in Scotland, step down as President. Together with Jim O’Donovan, John Kelly and Pam Currie, Charlie played a key role in delivering equal pay across the sector and in building the collective strength of this arm of our union from Stranraer to Stornoway! We can rest assured that Charlie will not be far away from the action when it comes to fighting for the future of FE.

And stepping into the role of EIS-FELA President is a well-known and trusted figure in FE and a long-standing advocate of college lecturer professionalism. Anne-Marie Harley, who has served as FELA Vice-President for the last two years, was warmly welcomed into the role at the conference and we caught up with her afterwards to find out more about her hopes and ambitions for the year ahead.

Unsurprisingly, GTCS Registration was high on her priority list and with the news that GTCS Council has approved Provisional (Conditional) Registration to enable all college lecturers currently in the sector to register.

Why is registration so important to you?

I view GTCS registration as a key step in ensuring that the professionalism of college lecturers across Scotland is recognised and valued.

Being professional and being recognised as a professional, are different things. After over 20 years of working in the college sector, I am continually in awe at the professionalism, demonstrated by my colleagues, who, in seeking to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners, effectively deliver vocational and academic qualifications.

Pre-pandemic, a walk through a college campus would have highlighted the range of learners being taught and supported by lecturers in both vocational and academic areas in equal esteem, from degree students, gas engineers and hairdressers to plumbers, joiners and business and computing students, to name a few. The diverse nature of the age groups attending, and the differing needs of students would also have been noteworthy. Our mode of delivery may have changed as we have moved to hybrid-models but the student body remains as diverse, including young people who may find engagement in education challenging, people with mental health issues, people with additional support needs, people who have English as an additional language, adult returners and school pupils.

And for each of them, ‘success’ will mean different things. For some of my students, for whom English is an additional language, having the confidence to participate in a conversation with a health care professional and being able to describe their symptoms, will be a milestone. Whilst for others, the skills learned in ESOL classes, will have been the first step towards completing an HND and securing a place at University.

All lecturers take personal pride in their student’s successes, but these achievements do not happen in isolation. The knowledge, skills and experience needed to meet the array of learners’ needs is underpinned by the Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s colleges.

The vision outlined in the Standards recognises that professional lecturers contribute to making Scotland a great place to live, learn and work by transforming lives through high quality learning’ and acknowledges the central role which lecturers play in ‘enabling people from all sections of the community to be included in education’.

For too long the professionalism referred to in the Standards has been overlooked. GTCS registration means that finally this professionalism is being formally recognised.

What do you think professional registration will mean for college lecturers?

The gradual rollout of the registration process has allowed time for more meaningful conversations about registration, both locally amongst fellow lecturers but also with people from out with the sector, who, through these discussions, have developed a greater understanding of the multifaceted nature of college education.

  • Formal recognition as professional educators – Although college lecturers have qualifications and experience in their own areas of specialism, they are also required to have or attain a recognised teaching qualification. This is central to the role and ensures that when planning delivery, lecturers are qualified to identify, use and subsequently, reflect on the appropriate andragogical approach to meet learners’ needs. This cyclical model of planning, teaching and assessment ensures that students receive high quality learning experiences, which help them to develop greater independence in learning and problem-solving skills. This constructivist approach to education goes far beyond a one-dimensional instructional approach, which we are seeing emerging in parts of the sector. GTCS registration recognises the importance of professional teaching qualifications in preserving high quality educational experiences for college students.
  • Viewed as a career, not just a job! – As well as maintaining industry standards in their area of specialism, lecturers are also required to develop professional learning in educational approaches. In the past, continuous professional development (‘CPD’), in many colleges, has been driven by strategic and operational plans, which do not always meet individual needs. This has led to generic and often meaningless CPD being foisted on lecturers, rather than a self-evaluative and reflective practice approach. Handing control back to lecturers will empower them to develop and enhance their own practice, for the benefit of all.
  • Developing the professionalism of the sector – In delivering a Professional Development Award, I have facilitated discussions around the Professional Standards. Previously, some viewed the old standards as a static model, somewhat removed from practice. With the introduction of the new standards, held by GTCS, registration offers an opportunity to bring the standards to the fore, playing a meaningful role in shaping and developing professional practice, in creative and supportive environments, and in responding effectively to the needs of learners and the local community.

Why will Provisional (Conditional) Registration deliver for lecturers?

In approving the Standard for Provisional Registration for lecturers in Scotland’s colleges, GTCS has provided an essential transitional route to registration for those lecturers, who currently do not hold a recognised teaching qualification. This allows them to register provisionally on the condition that they will obtain a relevant teaching qualification, within a specified period of time, yet to be determined. This route is key in ensuring that the professionalism of all lecturers is recognised and to prevent division arising. For too long, we have seen colleagues frustrated as waiting lists for TQFE grow, with access seeming a remote and distant hope. The requirement to obtain the qualification will shine a light on TQFE provision and the importance of the sector addressing this backlog, once and for all.

Although provisional (conditional) registration will be available from 3rd April 2023, there is still work ongoing to discuss how it will be rolled out across the sector and over what time period. More information will be coming out in the weeks ahead, with events being organised to provide an opportunity for members to ask questions about implementation.

In the meantime, we need to prepare to build on the progress we have made. There are now over 3,000 college lecturers on the Register of Teachers – a far cry from the 400 only two years ago! I look forward to the day when all college lecturers are registered and rightly recognised for the essential part they play in the Scottish education system.

Aside from GTCS Registration, what other priorities will be demanding your attention in the next few months?

As we have in previous years, we continue to fight for pay justice in the sector. And whilst this year is no different in this respect, there has been a fundamental change in the approach FELA is taking to pursue our pay claim. As a member led organisation, we have taken time to reflect on our last pay campaign and to develop an approach that focusses on the biggest concerns of our members, pay being one of them.

It is crucial that our members’ voices are heard as the Scottish Government embarks on a ‘reform agenda’ that may well see significant change and a closer correlation between FE and HE in Scotland.

EIS-FELA is determined to campaign for positive change in the sector and in framing a vision of a sustainable and high-quality FE sector focused on the common good, is making six key demands. These demands, determined by the EIS-FELA Executive nationally, following consultation with the wider membership and from feedback gained from the EIS-FELA branches across Scotland’s Colleges are:

  • Establishing accountable and supportive college management,
  • Securing a commitment to fund the FE sector fairly,
  • Protecting quality learning and teaching for all FE students,
  • Embedding fair work practices for all,
  • Reducing the burden of unnecessary and increasing workload and
  • last but by no means least, a fair pay rise for all lecturers.

As highlighted above, being involved in the GTCS registration process, has made me even more aware of the professionalism of lecturers in the sector and aspects of the campaign, such as protecting quality learning and teaching, are resonant with that ethos. The need for a strategic focus on serving community learning needs first and foremost has never been more important which is why the sector needs to recruit, value and maintain professionals.

Funding is essential in progressing these demands for the sector; funding for TQFE and funding to retain the best qualified lecturers in the sector. At the moment an offer of 2% against a backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis and significantly higher pay awards for other public sector workers will not make lecturers feel like valued and respected professionals and more importantly will not help them pay their bills!

So yes, FELA is in dispute and we will fight for better pay and for all the aspects of our campaign. Our members are resilient and while more industrial action is the last thing anyone wants, in our recent ballot they have shown they are prepared to fight for the future of FE.

Interesting times indeed. I am honoured to become the next President of EIS-FELA. I have learned so much from the National Reps team, Executive and of course our members.

I will have the wise voices of Charlie, Jim and John (although, in John’s case his singing) in my head as I develop in this role and I am looking forward to the year ahead.