Reforming teaching qualifications in lifelong learning

I’ve just completed a survey on the proposed new structure of teaching qualifications in further education in England. Following a review led by Lord Lingfield, government is now consulting on a number of proposals, including suggestions for new generic teaching qualifications and a number of specialist areas such as literacy, numeracy, ESOL and learning disabilities.

I rather like some of the reforms. These include new qualifications at Level 3 (roughly equivalent to A-Levels) and Level 4 (roughly equivalent to first year undergraduate) as well as a new Diploma at Leven 7 (roughly equivalent to the level expected in a Masters’ degree). The first two levels would, as I see it, give a staged progression route for those who are entering teaching and developing a career in further education, while the Level 7 Diploma would support staff working in higher education, along with those who teach on the teaching qualifications.

So in general, my responses to the proposals were very positive, with one exception. Government is proposing that the new Level 5 Diploma should comprise 60 credits – half of the previous level in England (though it is the same as the Teaching Qualification in FE in Scotland). Because of this reduction, the new Diploma will concentrate on ‘core knowledge and skills’, with no scope for specialist credit, or for much in the way of an underpinning understanding of learning and its contexts. In spite of this change, it hopes that the Diploma will be recognised as equivalent to the current Certificate in Education.

I have three main concerns about the L5 Diploma. At the simplest level, that of perception, there is a strong likelihood that it will be derided as ‘Mickey Mouse’. This term is such a cliche, but it will be damaging nevertheless, not least to the morale of those who earn a Diploma and are then ridiculed in the staff room.

More seriously, the English qualification will look both narrow and weak when compared with parallel qualifications. It will look thin in comparison with the qualifications typically held by school teachers or early years teachers, and this will limit its’ holders status and careers.

It will also look a bit under-cooked in comparison with other European countries. Teachers in German Berufschulen, for instance, must first either work for a substabntial period in their profession or complete a nine-semester programme in a university, specialising in two subjects along with education. Both groups then enter a specialist institution for three or four semesters of practical training. I find this excessive, but we can easily guess which group of teachers – German and English – enjoys the higher standing in their respective countries.

Worse still, the L5 Diploma would lead to a focus on compliance with core standards, with little opportunity for either breadth or specialisation. Given the diversity of the sector and its students, and the rather dispersed and fragmented nature of the profession, this strikes me as highly damaging.

All of that said, some of the reforms are likely to prove popular, and should help improve the experiences of people trying to enter further education teaching as a career. What happens after they have entered it will largely depend on how the sector develops in the next few years.


The LSIS survey is at

Pete Caldwell of the WEA has written an interesting blog on the reforms as seen from an adult educator’s perspective:

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