Making a difference? Reflections on professional standards for teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector.


In the 14 years since the start of the 21st century there have been four sets of national teaching standards (TDLB, FENTO, LLUK and ETF), with the latest incarnation due shortly in 2014. We have encountered, or endured, four sets of standards in fourteen years! I have been working in LLS teacher education for all of this period of time and this post is intended to prompt a discussion around whether the various national teaching standards have made a difference to the quality of teachers, teacher education and learning in the LLS.

An EPPI-centre review (2008) of ‘International perspectives on quality in Initial Teacher Education’ found that there is a lack of coherence in the ‘conceptual framework’ of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in OECD countries. Musset’s (2010) review of the Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Training Policies of a number of OECD countries indicates that efforts to create and use ‘a set of standards for professional practice’ do however frequently take place in order to define what constitutes a ‘teaching professional’ in those countries. Research contains a range of debates, discussions and differences of opinion about the aspirations, philosophy, values, contents and impacts of teaching standards. OfSTED (2003), in their survey report of LLS ITE, argued that the national standards then in force were not fit for purpose. The standards which replaced them were also then seen as ‘haphazard and onerous’ by Lingfield (BIS, 2013) despite the fact that they had at least partially been constructed to remedy the weaknesses seen by OfSTED in the previous set. Nasta (2007), Lucas (2004) and Lucas et al. (2012) all provide evidence that teaching standards can lead to prescription and concentration on the technical aspects of teaching, and BERA, (2014) provides evidence that they are increasingly influenced by political ideologies rather than by visions of the teaching professional. Other research asserts they can reduce autonomy and even ‘violate human rights’ (Celik, 2011: 74) or be coercive (Turkan and Grossman, 2011). Korthagen (2004) argues that standards cannot represent effectively the complexity and range of teacher education. Cochran-Smith (2001), Stevens (2010) and Zeichner (2009) doubt the professional credibility and validity of statements of competence, and argue that these may well both not recognise and even conflict with the values of teacher educators and the teachers they train.

Celik (2011), Fisher (2005), Jenlink (2009) and Smith (2005) find evidence to support the positive case, arguing that standards can assist professional development, guide professional growth and provide a framework for teacher education which can be ‘a blueprint for training and evaluation’ Celik (2011: 75).

From my experience with numerous trainee teachers, I would argue that aspirational statements of the wide range of capabilities, values, competences and aspirations of teaching professionals can be a helpful tool for teaching, curriculum and personal development, but that this is not what makes them better teachers. I believe the quality of their experience in teacher education programmes and in their workplace; the accompanying support they receive from teacher educators and others and their motivation to improve the life chances of their students are what really makes a difference. I can’t provide comprehensive evidencethat this is the case, but I believe that this remains constant irrespective of any national teaching standards which may happen to be in place.

The most recent, but not yet final, version of LLS national teaching standards from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF, 2014) appear to be a minimalist, although reasonably aspirational, set of statements, and in the current period of deregulation and rapid reform, it is easy to wonder if they will be yet another passing phase. National teaching standards have gone from non-existent to very visible to almost invisible in just 14 years.

Are they really likely to make a difference?


BERA (2014) The Role Of Research in Teacher Education: Reviewing The Evidence – Interim Report of The BERA-RSA Inquiry. London: British Educational Research Association

BIS (2012) Professionalism in Further Education – Interim Report (Lingfield report). London: Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Celik, S. (2011). Characteristics and Competencies for Teacher Educators: Addressing the Need for Improved Professional Standards in Turkey. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(4).

Cochran-Smith, M. (2001). Editorial: Reforming teacher education: Competing agendas. Journal of Teacher Education, (52), 263–265.

ETF (2014) Consultation draft of Review of the Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers in England. London: Education and Training Foundation

EPPI-Centre (2008) International perspectives on quality in initial teacher education. An exploratory review of selected international documentation on statutory requirements and quality assurance. Report no. 1605R. London: Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.

Fisher, R. (2005) Standards for Teacher Educators: Preparing High-Quality Teachers. In After Student Standards: Alignment. Amherst, MA. National Evaluation Systems

Jenlink, Patrick M. (2010 October 13) Whither Standards in the Professional Project? An Essay Review of Visions for Teacher Educators. Education Review, 13(12).

Korthagen, F. (2004) In search of the essence of a good teacher: towards a more holistic approach in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education 20. 77–97

Lucas, N. (2004) The ‘FENTO Fandango’: national standards, compulsory teaching qualifications, and the growing regulation of FE college teachers. Journal of Further and Higher Education 28(1), pp. 35-51.

Lucas, N., Nasta, A. & Rogers. L. (2012): From fragmentation to chaos? The regulation of initial teacher training in further education, British Educational Research Journal, 38:4, 677-695

Musset, P. (2010), “Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Training Policies in a Comparative Perspective: Current Practices in OECD Countries and a Literature Review on Political Effects”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 48, OECD Publishing.

Nasta, T. (2007) Translating national standards into practice for the initial training of Further Education (FE) teachers in England, Research in Post-Compulsory Education,12:1,1 — 17

OfSTED (2003) The initial training of further education teachers. London: OfSTED

Smith, K. (2005). Teacher educators’ expertise: what do novice teachers and teacher educators say? Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 177-192.

Stevens, David (2010) ‘A Freirean critique of the competence model of teacher education, focusing on the standards for qualified teacher status in England’, Journal of Education for Teaching, 36: 2, 187 — 196

Türkan, S. and Grossman, G. (2011) The Teacher Educators and Leaders as Agents of Change in a Teacher Education Activity System; the Reform-in-the-Making in Turkey. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 2011, 3(1), 1-29

Zeichner, K.M. (2009) Teacher Education and the struggle for social justice. Abingdon: Routledge


One thought on “Making a difference? Reflections on professional standards for teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector.

  1. Thanks for this post Jim. You put it starkly – four sets of completely revised professional standards in 14 years . Truth is that I can scarcely remember a time when there was anything other then this to-ing and fro-ing with Post-16 professional standards and everything that surrounds our professionalism. Or at least – there may have been a time a while back when no one was very interested in post-16 education and practitioners could get on with what they knew to be best.

    In one of her explorations of Quality in HE Louise Morley suggests that the interest in in quality and policy effervescence that surrounds it is not directly related to how good or not good post-16 teaching is now or was when the whole machinery first geared into action. That policy makes iconic use of the idea of quality as a guise for controlling – defining and limiting – teacher activity. I’ve not read the BERA report you mention but the idea that these redefinitions of standards are ideological or politically determined sound about right to me. After all, as one colleague puts it, truth is if they didn’t call it quality, none of us would do it.

    I’ve been re-reading Ranson this weekend. He outlines one of the most appealing notions of accountability I have read. He talks in terms reminiscent of communicative rationality, the mutual giving and taking of accounts.

    ‘Members of the community of practice (embracing the public as well as the profession) recognize and draw upon the authority of standards which they can trust for evaluating performance because they have been tested in deliberation. In the pursuit of excellence, internal goods replace extrinsic controls, and agency supplants alienated routines. Reflexive questioning of achievement informs the practice of mutual accountability: things can be done better, the process implies, even when they are done well. The accounting for (present) performance and the discursive negotiating and agreeing of (improved) performance are interrelated processes in the practice of excellence.’

    The trouble with these sorts of high-minded aspirations is that you can’t reduce them to a bullet-point brevity, nor can you annotate them on a uni-dimensinal scale from one to four.

    Morley, L. (2003). Quality and power in higher education. London: McGraw-Hill International.
    Ranson, S. (2003) Public accountability in the age of neo‐liberal governance, Journal of Education Policy, 18:5, 459-480,

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