re-writing the Professional Standards for FE – in a different key

It’s hard not to like the two A4 pages that outline and define the professional standards for Further Education. FE professionalism (according to the ETF) is a triumvirate of skills, values and attributes, and knowledge and understanding.

The words ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ demand your immediate attention (on the first of the two pages, they are positioned immediately above the multi coloured professional pie). Other words written in large red letters across the page; words familiar to the FE teacher educator; words like reflective, enquiring, critically, evidence-based practice.

What then follows on the second of the standards’ two pages are twenty statements that define professionalism. The colourful, categorical coding of the introductory page is somewhat muted. Broad headings and subheadings are written in dark pink and dusky blue.

What the standards demand is less colourful.

• Reflect on what works
• Apply theoretical understanding
• Manage and promote positive behaviour
• Promote the benefits of technology

With this set of standards, common sense and the comfort of familiarity have won. I – the reader am disarmed by their coloursome brevity and all other considerations are lost. The professional standards allow me to be the sort of professional who reflects, applies, manages and promotes.

This apparent welcoming of mundanity is surely what Usher (1997) means when he refers to seductive texts. Seductive texts define what ought to be, not what it is. But the ought they define is not a utopian, aspirational ought. The ought they define almost already tangibly there. It is at the tips of your fingers. What would happen if we defined post-16 professionalism in alternative ways. In ways that admit and invite contestation. In ways that are ideal, impractical, and unrealisable? Or at least, what might happen if our conversations about professionalism teetered on the edges of the preposterous, the disruptive?

Isn’t this where professionalism and the standards that inscribe it ought to be. Teaching is an optimistic undertaking. The impossibility of certain bodies and particular selves create a Utopian performative. To teach is to insist on a world replete with hope. It is an indulgence in a pedagogy of abundance. It is a rejection of resignation. A refusal to accept the status quo as common sense (Simecka 1984).

I can’t help wondering, in one of my far too many analytical daydreams, what would happen if the professional standards for FE had been written in the key of critical utopian imagination?

According to Goodwin, the primary function of Utopia is to distance us from immediate circumstances so as to develop an alternative schema that points towards change and the promotion of human happiness (Goodwin and Taylor 1982: ch. 1 and p. 207).

Mannheim (1979) sees it as one means of helping `to shatter, either partially or wholly, the order of things prevailing at the time’ (p. 173).

For Halpin (1999) utopias encourage us to ask and answer the question, `for what may I hope?’

In her review of feminist utopias, Sargisson argues that utopian texts `break and transform societal and cultural rules. In so doing they create new conceptual spaces in which radically different ways of being can be imagined’ (1996: 2) . They are future-oriented. They are about offering radical challenges to the status quo, not reinforcing or reconstructing it. But they also encourage reflection on the standing of actual and esteemed structures of feeling as Williams’ (1980, 1983) discussion of ‘heuristic utopias’ emphasizes. Heuristic utopias, he says, are ones that encourage the facility `to strengthen and confirm existing feelings and relationships which are not at home in the existing order and cannot be lived through in it’ (1983: 13).

What would happen if reflect, apply, manage and promote became critique, imagine, explore and question. Or just question?

Goodwin, B. and Taylor, (1982) The Politics of Utopia, London: Hutchinson
Halpin, D. (1999) Utopian realism and a new politics of education: developing a critical theory without guarantees, Journal of Education Policy, 14:4, 345-361
Mannheim, K. (1979) Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
Sargisson, L. (1996) Contemporary Feminist Utopianism, London: Routledge
Simecka, M. (1984) A world with utopias or without them?, in Alexander and Gill (eds) Utopias, London: Duckworth
Usher, R (1997) Seductive texts: competence, power and knowledge in Postmodernoty, Ch 8 in Barnett and Griffin (eds), The end of knowledge in higher education. London: Cassell
Williams, R. (1980) Utopia and science fiction, in R. Williams (ed) Problems in Materialism and Culture (London: Verso)
Williams, R. (1983) Towards 2000, London: Chatto & Windus

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One thought on “re-writing the Professional Standards for FE – in a different key

  1. Lovely graphic Azumah! I’m absolutely withn you on the so seductive, so reasonable, nature of the ETF standards. But of course they aren’t standards are they – they are aspirational rather than expressing the minimum level of quality which public funding will require. So the role of these ‘standards’ is quite different from that of the old ones. A key issue is how OFSTED will orient their procedures and pracrtices to them.

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