Toni Fazaeli is chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL)

Like Ofsted, IfL believes in raising standards and changing lives. Our 200,000 members - teachers and trainers across further education and skills - do just that, week in, week out, for millions of young people and adult learners. I confess that we look forward to the chief inspector's annual report with a sense of excitement and anticipation. What will be there be to celebrate in Ofsted’s findings about the work of teachers and trainers, their success and the difference they make for learners, and what more and different practice might be needed ahead?

Ofsted inspectors spend hundreds of hours a year expertly observing teaching, training and learning across colleges, learning and skills providers; their conclusions demand our attention. This year, the thrill of their findings is greater, as one of the three major themes in the report is how teaching and learning in England measures up against the best in the world, drawing on an international study by McKinsey.

As the professional body for teachers and trainers, IfL is especially interested in two of the three big questions and the international comparators:

  • How well are teachers and trainers in England able to develop to be consistently effective practitioners?
  • Is the systematic and targeted support needed in place to ensure every learner is able to benefit from excellent teaching?
  • How well is the sector - with Lifelong Learning UK (the sector skills council for learning and skills, and leading in this area) in partnership with employers - attracting the right people to become teachers?

So what does Ofsted find? IfL is not surprised that the quality of teaching and training continues to improve, which is impressive. We know from feedback and surveys of our members that teachers and trainers are deeply committed to their professionalism and to continuing professional development (CPD). IfL’s CPD survey for 2008–09 shows that of the 116,000 members who have declared their CPD so far, 98 per cent exceeded the minimum requirement of 30 hours (or pro rata) of CPD a year. Some are doing more than 70 hours a year. Trainee teachers and those under the age of 44 do the most CPD, which is a fantastic indication of the calibre and quality to come in the future.

Ofsted finds, however, that it remains a challenge for trainee teachers to become more expert in teaching and integrating literacy, numeracy and language into their programmes. In some cases, they are finding it difficult to improve their own personal skills in these areas. Trainees also need the chance to develop skills in averting and addressing poor behaviour among a minority of learners. They also need the opportunity to work across a range of types and levels of courses, and age groups. IfL is working with LLUK to extend the breadth of teaching practice.

All teachers and trainers need to be good at working with learners who have learning difficulties or disabilities. Ofsted finds we lag behind the best in the world on this front, even though we know that every kind of provision has a spectrum of learners. IfL knows that there is much specialist expertise in further education and skills, but we have further to go to ensure that every teacher and trainer is confident and knowledgeable about learning difficulties and cognition, and ensures that their teaching and training is tailored to meet the requirements of each learner, whatever their abilities or disabilities.

Like other good professional bodies, IfL is setting up special interest groups of members so that they can readily share practice. We will foster groups for new teachers and trainers, and groups addressing challenges such as achieving positive learner behaviours. The Cabinet Office (Excellence and Fairness, 2008) has said that that the best public services in the world are characterised by such rich professional networks.

Ofsted's report includes a quote from an international study carried out by McKinsey, which chimes with IfL's beliefs: "The most successful education systems have an unwavering focus on improving the quality of teaching, and this is centred on the practice of individual teachers."

The study argues that for teachers to improve, they need to identify their own areas for development; have a secure understanding of what excellent practice looks like; have high expectations of themselves and their learners; have a shared sense of purpose; and be motivated to change. IfL thinks these findings confirm the benefits of IfL membership, and welcomes the cast-iron proof that colleges and providers should be protecting and investing in their frontline teachers and trainers and their professional development, however hard the times and budget decisions.

IfL is honoured to have been asked by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and other bodies to lead nationally on support for teaching, training and learning for the sector. We will use Ofsted’s findings to guide how we do this effectively, jointly with teachers and trainers and the sector. We will especially be guided by what Ofsted has found to be the most enduring features of excellent teaching:?

- the application of good subject knowledge
- clear direction and well-structured learning sessions, providing the right pace and high expectations for all learners
- skilful questioning and opportunities for independent and exploratory learning for developing understanding
- the effective use of assessment and feedback for learning.

Ofsted’s findings give cause for us all to celebrate the professional dedication and expertise of teachers and trainers, and to acknowledge areas for further improvement. It is music to IfL’s ears to have confirmation that teachers and trainers should be in the driving seat for leading their own professional development; we promote this, with our recommendation that teachers and trainers should be well supported by their employer to have sufficient time and flexible arrangements for their development.

Toni Fazaeli is chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for more than 200,000 teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector

Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli:

IfL seeks recognition of professional status for college teachers and trainers in schools

IfL chief reveals how teachers and trainers are coming through the recession

IfL chief tells FE News how teachers lie at the heart of tackling unemployment

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