What is the purpose of the Professional Bodies dialogue, and why did your organisation make the decision to join?
The Institute for Learning (IFL) is the professional body for teachers and trainers working in further education and skills development. Our members are dual professionals, teaching young people and adults whether it is in the field of computing, business administration, customer care or law – we are not a subject specialist- obviously there are professional bodies that cover those individual subjects or vocational areas.
Our members are also professional teachers – their skills and expertise in teaching and training keeps professionalism up to date.
Because of the dual professionalism of our members we have worked with a number of different professional bodies. That is what attracted us to being involved in the Professional Bodies dialogue, because we have a shared interest around the subject of vocational specialism. There is a great deal of synergy between the Institute for Learning and the other professional bodies involved in the dialogue, because our members are preparing and teaching the next generation of professionals in those different areas.
In terms of engaging with government and policy-makers; sometimes we feel there may be a misunderstanding about professional bodies and their purpose. We saw the dialogue as an opportunity to clarify and to identify the common purpose professional bodies have of giving the best possible, high quality, professional service in whatever field that may be i.e. services to the public or to businesses or employers. This unites professional bodies. Government and policy-makers have an interest in these high quality services and so it is important to engage with professional bodies.
In your own words what is a professional body?
I think the hallmark of a professional is that there is robust initial training, ongoing commitment demonstrated to continuing professional development, standards of professional behaviour and an accountability framework. The values and ethics of a high quality professional service are very ingrained in the individual profession and the professional body.
I think a good distinction is the question that is often asked as to what's the distinction between a professional association and a trade union or trade association, where employers gather in common interests.
A professional body is led by the members of the body. The IFL has elected governors as most professional bodies do, for the public and for the profession. That provides a distinction between being led by the members for the members, or acting as a guardian of the wider interest of the profession over the next decades ahead.
How do professional bodies help in the creation and promotion of a competitive UK workforce?
The IFL has a membership of 85,000 people currently and it is growing. Our membership teaches and trains over five million adults and young people a year in England.
Further education is the engine of the economy. Economic growth depends on new generations or re-training of adults, being skilled in all areas of business and the operation in the country. As a professional body it is important that we bring the perspective of our membership into the debate about what they see is needed. The major contribution that our members make to the economy is by ensuring they are training and teaching people for tomorrow’s world and tomorrow's economy, not yesterday's or last decade's requirements, and so we're part of making the future possible, and the economy more vibrant and effective in the longer term.
Do you think professional bodies are sometimes overlooked by the government, in the role they can play in promoting and up-skilling the UK workforce?
From our point of view there is too much silence around the importance of engagement between the teacher/trainer and those who are learning, whether those learners are young people or adults, in work or unemployed, trying to get into work or preparing for higher education. We want to surface that: it should not be a secret domain, it should be a domain that's talked about, which there's an interest in, where there's a policy commitment to high-quality teaching and training and a proper investment for the UK and the economy.
One of the concerns in times of austerity and financial constraint is that education and training are seen as an overhead and not as an investment. But ultimately investment in skills is investment for longer-term economic growth. By building the capacity of the workforce and the skills base it will enable us to compete effectively globally, and to keep up with nations like India and China where very large numbers of increasingly highly skilled people are coming through their equivalent of higher education and university. Therefore the investment is vital for our economy to be sufficiently specialist and expert to be able to compete and grow new industries and businesses. Further education, teachers and trainers have got a really vital role in that.
Do you think the government is fostering the right environment to create a skilled workforce for economic growth?
I think any government wants to spend wisely with a limited public purse, whatever era we're in. Investing in the future, investing in knowledge and skills of young people and adults, is just that – an investment. I think where there is a twist, and where there is a dysfunctional perspective, is that it is as if every area of spend is an overhead rather than an investment.
It is interesting hearing debates about the HS2 railway line and whether that should be viewed as an investment in infrastructure for the future, or an expensive and very long-term project. We have to look at the cost-benefit analysis. The cost-benefit analysis for investing vast amounts of money in education is that it's absolutely essential for the productivity of the nation. The price of not investing in education and skills is too high.
The Professional Bodies Dialogue recently held a roundtable, entitled, 'Representing the professions, serving the public: the true role of the UK's Professional Bodies', how do you feel it went and what was the feedback you received?
With everybody from the dialogue around the table, it allowed for greater clarity and a deeper understanding. All the professional bodies who participated showed how clearly committed they are to high-quality services, and both the interest of the public and the nation.
Somehow there seems to have been an opinion among some senior politicians and parliamentarians that professional bodies or professionals are out to line their own pockets, to increase their own influence or position for the sake of it. That is why the roundtable was important as it allowed us to get beyond the surface and present a body of very clear evidence of ways in which professional bodies are working to ensure our members are well trained, accountable and that there is code of professional practice to ensure the high standards expected.
If in practising their profession people fall short of those standards then the professional body will investigate and lay down sanctions, if needed. I hope this was very reassuring for the parliamentarians present. I also think and hope they went away with a much deeper and broader understanding of the seriousness with which professional bodies take the standards of services that members give.