7 April 2012

Success Against the IfL

The government has accepted all of the recommendations of the the interim report of Lingfield review, which was commissioned to look into into professionalism in FE, and the IfL in particular. The summarised recommendations of the review are:

  • Continued phasing out of state grant funding to the IfL, with support for professionalism among FE staff to be provided by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) from September 2012
  • The last increment of transitional funding for the IfL should be used to refund part of the second year of fees paid by FE staff Revocation of The Further Education Teachers’ Continuing Professional Development and Registration, England Regulations and The Further Education
  • Teachers’ Qualifications, England, Regulations, replaced with largely discretionary advice to employers on appropriate qualifications for staff and continuous professional development
  • Simplification of and re-naming the in-service teaching qualifications
  • An appropriate government body should take on responsibility for keeping a register of staff who have been found guilty of gross misconduct by the authorities, so that they may be excluded from future employment in the FE sector.

The significance of the IfL in this dispute was not particularly the magnitude of the fees but its imposed and compulsory nature and its lack of relevance to what
lecturers mostly want from a professional body. It was because of these reasons
that the issue became a lightning conductor for collective resistance to all the
workplace pressures that FE lecturers have increasingly been facing in recent years.

The review itself came about because IfL members, led in the most part by UCU,
refused to pay the fees which were imposed this time last year. Following the
initial backlash last February and April, the IfL, the unions, employer
organisations and the government got together to discuss a compromise deal,
which resulted in a lower fee over a period of time, but an inevitable increase
in fees after that.

This deal was backed by the unions full time officials who undertook the
negotiations, which did not include any lay negotiators. However, the members of the further education committee argued that this was not good enough and voted to
ballot the membership with a recommendation against acceptance of the deal. This
is a key reason why any union should leave decisions on balloting members to the
relevant committee, rather than be taken solely by the negotiators in isolation.
If the rule change proposals which are being discussed had gone through, there
would be no boycott, there would be not review, and we would likely still be in
the grip of IfL paperwork mania.

This deal was overwhelmingly rejected by members in a ballot, and the union
pressed on with an industrial action ballot, but this could have never happened
without UCU Left members on NEC arguing that ordinary members of the union
simply wouldn’t stand for this deal, and that the dispute was winnable.

Following a year of boycott, with many more than three times the number of UCU
members in FE joining the boycott, it’s clear that we were right to make that
argument, and with the news that IfL membership will be voluntary from Sept.
2012, the dispute has been a resounding victory for ordinary lecturers.

The report however presents a double edged sword, the way in which it justifies
these changes, and the other actions recommended are wrapped up in the language
of neoliberalism, of privatisation and de-regulation.

It’s clear that the IfL was in no way an effective regulator, so the loss of it
will not make much difference to the lives of ordinary lecturers, but the actual
regulations themselves on CPD and qualifications were for the most part welcome.
Many branches had to fight tooth and nail for themselves to ensure that
effective practitioner led CPD, and not centralised ‘sheep dip’ CPD was used in
their institutions, and their fight will have got all the more difficult without
backing from regulations.

The potential for colleges to employ un-qualified staff is also problematic, as
a union, we remain committed to high quality delivery by qualified staff, and
the removal of all regulations on qualifications could see pay undermined and
the quality of education provided drop.

As ever it will be up to hard working front line union reps to fight for these
things, to ensure that the quality of education we provide in our FE colleges is
not diminished, and that students have the benefit of a high quality FE education.

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