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The Need for a Professional Body for Staff in Scotland's Colleges

UNISON Scotland's response to The Scottish Executive's Consultation; The Need for a Professional Body for Staff in Scotland's Colleges

November 2004

Executive Summary

UNISON welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the debate on enhancing professionalism in Scotland's colleges. By providing support for the professional development of staff it is envisaged that a professional body would promote best practice in the interests of staff and learners alike.

UNISON believes that the consultation does not adequately address the needs of all staff working in FE, particularly support staff. There is therefore a necessity for further trade union consultation for the proposals outlined in the consultation document.

Introduction

UNISON Scotland is Scotland's largest trade union, representing the majority of support staff working in Scottish Further Education Colleges. Our members include managerial, administrative and technical and support staff. This includes workers dealing with business development, finance, personnel matters, support services, admissions, information provision, advertising, European Social Fund; board secretaries, librarians, staff in flexible study centres, careers staff, nurses, nursery nurses, drivers, personal assistants for students with learning or physical disabilities, general administration, secretarial and clerical staff, janitorial, cleaning, catering and maintenance staff.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive; The Need for A Professional Body for Staff in Scotland's Colleges.

Response

UNISON Scotland recognises the importance of the quality of the skills, knowledge and understanding of lecturers and related support staff in colleges. If staff in colleges are to maintain a high level of performance, they must continue to develop and update their academic and vocational expertise, and their professional learning and teaching skills. Of course, many lecturers and support staff such as librarians already register with a professional body which covers the specialist vocational area in which they teach. UNISON fully supports the proposal for a Professional Body which could help to support the career development of college staff and raise the standards of learning and teaching throughout the sector.

Changes in the Further Education Sector

UNISON recognises the new and ever-changing demands on college staff, all the more reason for the new Professional Body to extend its remit to cover support staff as well as lecturers. The Executive's consultation does acknowledge other staff,

"Other groups of staff such as librarians, support staff, guidance staff, instructors and technicians also make an important contribution to the learning process. If they are to play their part to the full, they need to be properly trained and to have opportunities to develop and enhance their skills and knowledge".

UNISON fully agrees with this statement. The support staff's contribution to college life is equally important. Without them, the FE sector, as a service sector, would not be able to function.

Improving Standards

UNISON supports the proposal that the,

"need for and desirability of such a body should be judged on its potential for levering up standards and helping to improve the quality of learning and teaching across the whole sector".

Students have the right to a high quality standard of teaching and services in FE. Having a Professional Body that monitored standards would go some way towards ensuring staff provided this standard. In order that colleges maintain these standards in a joined-up approach across all areas of the sector, all college staff, would have to be included in any proposals for quality improvements. All staff should be able to gain access to continuous training, updating and improving skills and knowledge.

The government's drive to improve learning through its Lifelong Learning Agenda for all, has ushered in a new approach to learning. UNISON Scotland has been at the forefront of the Lifelong Learning Agenda, with many members already benefiting from many courses offered through the union. UNISON therefore believes that all staff working in FE, can and should benefit from professional development. UNISON's major concern with the proposed Professional Body, is that it may not be able to adequately service FE as a whole. UNISON proposes a more inclusive Professional Body, which would be able to incorporate the needs of all staff in FE.

Conclusion

UNISON generally supports a new Professional Body in FE. If however, there is to be a new Professional Body, it must be open to support staff, as well as lecturers. Support staff play a vital role in providing a quality service to learners and the FE sector as a whole. As there has been an increasing collaboration between the secondary and tertiary sectors, it is important that confidence in the professionalism of staff is maintained and that the quality of educational provision is not undermined for financial expediency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that FE employers are reluctant to release staff to undertake TQ(FE) qualifications purely on cost grounds. If standards are to be improved in the FE sector, then employers must recognise the need for time and money in order to achieve this goal. There is a need to maintain standards, learning and teaching to be enhanced, and professional responsibilities to be clear. In relation to this, UNISON proposes that membership of the Professional Body should be extended to include support staff.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835
e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

 

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