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Institute for Learning

Background information on our dispute with the IfL arising from the change to a compulsory fee in 2011. Successful campaigning by UCU members saw the requirement of the IfL and its mandatory fee dropped by the government in 2013 .

Information : InformationEducation and Training Foundation

In November 2014, the membership of the Institute for Learning transferred to the Education and Training Foundation.

Final FE teaching qualification revoked in 2013

The remaining regulation requiring FE lecturers to have or be on track to have a FE teaching qualification was revoked in September 2013.

Compulsory IfL membership ended

September 2012

The independent review of professionalism in FE chaired by Lord Lingfield recommended the ending of compulsory IfL membership and CPD requirements by revoking the relevant statutory regulations. In addition it said that individuals should be able to claim a refund on fees. There was then formal consultation on the amending of the regulations and the following arrangements will now be effective from 30 September 2012:

  • it will no longer be a statutory requirement for teaching staff to register with IfL. It will be a matter of voluntary choice
  • those who have already paid a subscription for the full year, but do not wish now to continue their membership, will be able to apply to IfL for a refund
  • there will be no statutory requirement for teaching staff to record CPD with IfL or for individuals to undertake a minimum of 30 hours of CPD per year; the expectation is that individual employers will develop policies following consultation with staff and recognised trade unions
  • IfL will continue for the present to maintain arrangements to offer the award of QTLS. Teachers who wish to continue working towards the award should follow current IFL advice and guidance, but IFL membership is no longer required.

For further information and advice please see:  (.pdf) file type icon FE News 44, Sep 12 (.pdf) [189kb]

Review recommends voluntary membership

March 2012

UCU welcomed the news that staff in further education colleges would no longer be forced to pay a fee to do their job. An independent panel said the Institute for Learning (IfL) could not remain a compulsory body and money should be refunded to staff who had paid to join.

  • Full story: Independent review calls for scrapping of compulsory fees for college lecturers
  • Independent report (pdf)
  • UCU note about qualifications and professionalism: 'The issue around professionalism in the sector has not been put to bed in today's report. What we have had today is clarification that the IfL, which we said was not fit for purpose and was boycotted by our members, can no longer compel hard-working staff to join them and hand over a fee. UCU, like others involved in FE, want the best teachers in our colleges delivering high-quality education with the appropriate qualifications and access to further training and personal development. We are looking forward to contributing to the wider review of professionalism of further education, where we will continue to make these points.'

Message from Sally Hunt to members:

Dear colleague

Earlier this year I reported that we had met the independent inquiry team commissioned by government to look at the future of the Institute for Learning (IfL).

I am pleased to say the inquiry has now produced its first report which, among other things, recommends that membership of IfL be made voluntary rather than compulsory.

This is a tremendous victory for our campaign. Thank you for your help and support.  

Please share this news with others and, if they are not already members, encourage them to join the union: http://join.ucu.org.uk

Thanks again.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

Independent review: initial UCU submission

30 January 2012

Our initial submission to the Independent Review of Professionalism in the Further Education (FE) and Skills Sector has been published:

 (.pdf) file type icon IfL/CDP review - initial UCU submission, Jan 12 (.pdf) [170kb]
 (.doc) file type icon IfL/CDP review - initial UCU submission, Jan 12 (.doc) [158kb]

30 January email to members from UCU general secretary Sally Hunt:

Dear colleague,

As promised I am writing to update you on the Institute for Learning (IfL) dispute.

In the coming days I will be meeting the members of the Independent Review of Professionalism in the Further Education (FE) and Skills Sector, which was set up by John Hayes, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning as a result of UCU's boycott of fees.

I wanted you to see the initial submission I, and my colleagues Barry Lovejoy and Kathy Taylor, will be presenting to the review. It sets out our position on the IfL and draws on the recent survey which many of you completed.

You can find our submission here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/iflfee

For the avoidance of doubt, please continue to boycott IfL fees and inform UCU immediately if you are threatened in any way because of this action.

As ever let me know your thoughts on this or any other topic.

Thanks for your support.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

Independent review launched

January 2012

We have now finally received confirmation that the Independent Review of Professionalism in the Education and Skills Sector (ie the review of IFL arrangements) is now underway with the aim of reporting in 3 months time. The full terms of reference of the review can be found here.

The minister, John Hayes, appointed the following members to the expert panel: David Sherlock, former Chief Executive of the Adult Learning Inspectorate, who will act as the lead professional on the review; Dawn Ward, Principal and Chief Executive of Burton and South Derbyshire College; and Dan Wright, Chief Executive of First4Skills.

This panel met for the first time on Tuesday 10 January to discuss how they will conduct the review and take evidence. We anticipate a public announcement being made at some stage after that meeting has taken place.

The UCU National FE Committee (FEC) has agreed that our submission to this review should indicate that UCU are fully in favour of a qualified workforce with professional status and with requirement for a license to practise. However we would submit arguments and evidence as to the failings of the present IfL arrangements including its lack of value to practitioners and the unacceptable charging of individuals. We would be calling for a totally fresh approach taking account of some key principles outlined below but we should not tie ourselves fully to one particular model and allow for acceptable options to be pursued.

It was further agreed that we should undertake a further survey of member's views to complement earlier surveys on CPD and comments fed through over our campaign. Further details of this and how members may contribute to the review will follow shortly. Meanwhile it is important that members continue the boycott of IfL fees.

We are not aware of any action being taken against members pursuing this and it is important that we maintain the pressure. There have been some reports of members employed through agencies being under pressure to pay IfL fees. Please continue to let us know of any such instances as we can advise further.

Key principles for UCU submission to review:

  • there should be a division between any regulatory body and  any membership body: the regulatory body should be independent: any governance arrangements should include union representations: such a regulatory body should be supported and funded by government
  • support for the license to practise based around a teaching qualification as a way for maintaining the quality of delivery by professionals
  • re-definition of professionalism away from audit and tick box regulation to one based on trust, accountability and active promotion of values
  • an entitlement for CPD with at most a requirement to make a CPD declaration.
  • more active monitoring and review of employers' policies and implementation of CPD, with the possibility of kite marking employers' implementation of CPD
  • support for the model of dual professionalism: for teaching and for the subject area
  • development of self organized communities of practise around subject areas
  • development of more peer support and monitoring of CPD outcomes
  • if there is a membership body, membership of it should not be mandatory
  • UCU members will not pay for any professional body that is not perceived to have added value or bring definable benefits to its members.
  • review and reformulation of the approach to part time staff in terms of requirements for CPD: more support for part time staff for CPD
  • funding of any professional body to be from government and employers
  • need for a more nuanced approach to the different parts of the FE and skills sector in terms of both requirements and membership of any professional body.
  • governance arrangements for any professional membership body: should have democratic; clear and transparent links between the members and the governing body/ies; an elected president; and an annual event to set policy parameters and debate policy issues.

13 October 2011

We are still awaiting a ministerial decision on the establishment of the independent review including who is to be its chair but it is anticipated that details will be announced within the next few weeks.
We are aware that IfL have been sending out letters suggesting that people renew membership in order to be able to participate in an election process. Our advice is to treat this  as an unfortunate irritant and members should be reminded that our boycott of membership fees continues. On a more positive note it appears that employers have generally been following the advice from the Minister and the AoC and are taking no action against employees who have not paid membership fees.
We are expecting further clarification from BIS very shortly in regard to the £400 grant towards initial teacher training. This will set up a mechanism whereby staff who have not paid up membership can be verified by their employer and will be able to access the grant

21 September 2011

We anticipate that the details of the independent review will be announced within a few weeks. Following discussions we are confident that practitioners will have an opportunity to put forward their views and we also intend to consult members during the course of the review.

Meanwhile, please remember the boycott of fees remains following the agreement of all parties involved and a recommendation from the minister that staff that have not paid fees should not be put under pressure to do so by any party.

Review of professional development and Institute for Learning announced

7 September 2011

UCU has welcomed the government's decision to hold an independent review of professional development for college lecturers that will involve looking at the role and effectiveness of the Institute for Learning (IfL).

Responding to the announcement by the further education minister, John Hayes, UCU said it was essential that the review did not shy away from asking awkward questions and that it heard directly from staff teaching in colleges.

Statement from John Hayes

'I am pleased to hear in regard to the issues arising on IfL membership that a basis has been proposed on which constructive discussions can be resumed and legal action suspended, and I want to do all that I can to help find a solution that is in the best, longer term interests of those who are served by the sector and those who work within it.

For my part, I am happy to confirm my willingness to commission an independent review that would look broadly at the arrangements for achieving a professionalised workforce and how this is facilitated by the Institute for Learning and other partners in delivering the regulations and other policy initiatives aimed at supporting a professional workforce.  I would want to ensure that all parties were able to support the terms of reference and have confidence in the appointment of the independent chair.
My aim would be to commission this review as soon as possible. However, in order to go ahead, I am asking that all parties now refrain from further action. Once that is confirmed, my officials can facilitate a further discussion on the terms of reference for an independent review.'

Please note the italicised sentence. Significantly the CEO of the AoC wrote to all colleges on 2 September stating:

[The Minister] ...'has asked that all parties, including employers refrain from taking action in relation to staff who have not yet paid their IfL fee. I am not aware of any Colleges who are taking or who have taken substantive action in relation to the non-payment of IfL fees, beyond general encouragement, but if you were considering such action, our clear recommendation would be to refrain from doing so until the way ahead is clearer.'

In short, over the course of the review process employers have been advised by the minister and the AoC not to take any action against staff who continue to refuse to pay IfL fees. BIS will also be advising IfL and colleges that Initial Teaching Grants should not be withheld from staff who have not renewed membership fees.

What Next?
UCU has now suspended the current legal proceedings against IfL but the boycott of fees remains.

This step forward has been achieved by the determination of members in maintaining the action and it is vital that we continue to stand firm. Please continue to report any difficulties to your regional office in the first instance.
We will now be involved in the determination of the precise terms of reference to the review which is envisaged to take 2/3 months. Further information will be provided as soon as possible on this but we will be arguing for: the fullest involvement of practitioners within the review, all aspects of the current arrangements to come under close scrutiny, including fees and the service provided by IfL, and the consideration of alternative arrangements.

Government announces review of professional development and Institute for Learning

Review succeeds in taking the heat out of IfL conflict, TES

Members vote to boycott the Institute for Learning

UCU members have voted overwhelmingly to boycott the Institute for Learning (IfL). Almost 90% of those who voted, voted to boycott the organization, providing yet more evidence that the institute commands no confidence among FE lecturers. Read more here: Lecturers vote to boycott the Institute for Learning

25 July 2011: Result of the ballot on boycotting the IfL (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markDear colleague,

I am writing to notify you of the result of the ballot for industrial action against the Institute for Learning.

'our advice remains to continue to not pay your registration fee and to send your letter of objection'

Members have delivered an unequivocal and overwhelming vote for industrial action, in the form of a boycott of IfL membership, demonstrating once again that the Institute commands no confidence among FE professionals. 

The result was as follows:

Number voting YES: 8,451 (89.43% of valid vote)
Number voting NO:  999 (10.57% of valid vote)

Thanks to everyone who voted, especially at this time of year.

I am aware that the IfL has written to members insisting that it will be lapsing the membership of all those who do not pay their registration fee.
UCU is of the firm view that the IfL has no right to lapse members without a formal hearing. If the IfL persists on this path, UCU will seek a court order quashing any decision to lapse members as a breach of their civil rights as guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In the meantime, our advice remains to continue to not pay your registration fee and to send your letter of objection using our web tool here: www.ucu.org.uk/iflobjection.

I will be writing again soon with more details of the union's next steps.

Thanks again for your support.


Sally Hunt
UCU General Secretary'

24 June 2011: IfL e-ballot result (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markDear colleague,

I wanted to write to tell you the result of the referendum held by UCU on the proposed new fees for the Institute for Learning (IFL).

The result was as follows:

  • Number of eligible voters: 34,505
  • Total number of votes cast: 11,178 (32.4%)
  • Number voting Yes (we should accept these proposals for a two year settlement) 3,297 (29.51%)
  • Number voting No (we should reject and conduct an industrial action ballot to boycott fees) 7,877 (70.49%)

'For the avoidance of doubt, UCU members should not pay their IFL fees until further notice.'

It is worth noting that, even at this busy time of the year for teaching staff, the turnout for this vote has been substantial.  In fact turnout exceeded even recent national votes on pensions and pay, reflecting its importance to UCU members.

From my postbag over the past few weeks I know that you have appreciated the efforts of UCU's negotiators to win concessions. However, it is clear that IFL has a massive credibility problem across the sector which is impossible to get away from.

In fact, many of you contacted me during the ballot to say that IFL does little if anything to support your professional development and that, for the majority of you, any charge for its services would be too much.

The next step is clear. The union will now make preparations to ballot members on industrial action in the form of a collective boycott of the IFL.

In the meantime I will communicate the result to IFL and the union will redouble our efforts to achieve a just and fair solution for members.

To win this battle we will have to turn the strength of feeling against IFL into an overwhelming vote for boycott. I have no doubt that together we can do that.

For the avoidance of doubt, UCU members should not pay their IFL fees until further notice.

Thank you for your support.

Sally Hunt'

See also: Institute for Learning to face teacher boycott

IfL e-referendum - 13-24 June 2011

UCU's consultative online ballot on whether to accept the negotiated IfL settlement opened on 13 June and closed on 24 June (extended from 22 June). All FE members working in England for whom we had an email address should have received an email from ballot service ERS with instructions on how to take part. Where UCU had an email address for you which bounced, or where we had no email address at all, ERS  dispatched a paper ballot to you by first class post.

Key points of the agreement members are being balloted on:

  1. Reduced fees: Annual membership of £38 and with further reductions for those earning less than £16,000.
  2. Review of IfL: UCU and other trade unions will have a central role in reviewing IfL through a reference group. It will cover the governance, regulatory responsibilities, membership services, and future fee levels. This review is premised on the shared principle of having a flourishing, independent, professional membership body that is both accountable and relevant to its members. The unions would vigorously pursue these objectives in the review and take stock after two years.
  3. Principle of employer assistance on fees: The proposals explicitly recognise that individuals may approach their employers to seek support in the payment of fees and commits employers to provide adequate facilities and time for CPD. If the proposals are accepted UCU will advise individuals and branches to lodge claims for such financial support for fees and if necessary organise industrial and/or legal pressure on employers to meet such claims.

The proposals would form the basis of a two-year settlement and the unions would not be bound beyond that point were IfL to propose raising the fee at any future date.

You can download the full agreed statement here: campaigns.ifl.ac.uk/t/10134215/19309273/22476/0/

The ballot options are:

  • YES we should accept these proposals for a two-year settlement
  • NO we should reject and conduct an industrial action ballot to boycott fees.

 (.pdf) file type icon IfL e-referendum ballot enclosure (.pdf) [27kb]

7 June 2011 (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markYou may have received a message from the IfL this morning stating that they have reduced their fees. We wanted to write to you in person to spell out exactly where we are and what happens next.

As you know, UCU and the other trade unions have been in tripartite negotiations with the government and with the employers to try to find a negotiated settlement.

These discussions followed a fantastic campaign in which 22,000 members signed a mass petition protesting the hike in IfL fees, and withheld their membership in the face of significant pressure.

The negotiations that followed have often been tough but we have negotiated some substantial concessions.

The key concessions are:

  1. Reduced fee: The fee for IfL registration has been lowered to £38, almost half what it was. Those who have paid the £68 fee will have two years' membership. The deadline for registration has been extended until 22 July.
  2. Review of IfL: IfL has agreed to set up a reference group with trade unions, employers and BIS where appropriate. The review will look at IfL's governance, regulatory responsibilities, membership services, its operation and future fee levels.
  3. Principle of employer assistance: The employers have recognised that individuals may  approach their employers to seek support in the payment of  fees. UCU will advise members and branches to pursue this option  and where necessary will provide appropriate support.

You can download the full agreed statement here:

We must be clear. We have not got everything that we wanted and feeling on this issue is strong.

However, we should also be clear that UCU's campaigning and negotiating has won some major concessions.

These concessions reduce the financial burden on members considerably. In addition, we have won what we think is a far-reaching and comprehensive review of how IfL works. We have changed the terms of the debate about IfL. If UCU members were to accept the proposals outlined here, we would have the real opportunity to influence the IfL's future development.

Considering where we started from earlier this year, it's clear to us that UCU's campaign has been highly effective. We believe that this is the best that can be achieved through negotiations and that the alternative would be a full boycott of IfL.

The final decision about where we go next must lie with members. For that reason, we have asked ERS to conduct an email-based ballot of all UCU members in FE. In the next few days, you will be contacted with ERS with a ballot statement and you will be asked whether you support the proposals for resolving the dispute outlined here.'

See also: UCU members to be balloted over improved offer in compulsory membership body row

27 May 2011 (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markThe following statement has been agreed with all relevant parties. The advice to members continues to be not to pay fees at this stage. Members will be fully consulted on recommendations arising from these discussions.'

Sally Hunt

Update on IfL, the professional body for teachers and trainers in further education and skills
Recent joint discussions between the IfL, the AoC and trade unions, facilitated by the minister, have been positive and the collective belief is that we are near a resolution. 

When all parties have reached a recommended way forward, which is anticipated to be shortly, we will publish a joint statement, and IfL will communicate with members and set out an updated timetable for the completion of membership renewals.

Teachers and trainers will not be disadvantaged if they have not yet renewed their IfL membership while the joint discussions continue. Members who have renewed membership will not be disadvantaged following the discussions.

20 May 2011 (UCU campaign update)

Negotiations are continuing between the government, the employers and the unions in an attempt to reach a resolution over the dispute over IFL fees. Even though the deadline for registration is now near, talks are continuing and all parties have committed not to apply pressure in the meantime. Members are asked to continue to follow UCU's advice and to continue not registering. It is unlikely that employers will put pressure on but members are asked to report any instances. Watch this space for more information as soon as we have it.

5 May 2011 (FE news 38)

Confidential talks that are being facilitated by John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, are continuing between ourselves UNISON and ATL with IFL, and the AoC. The aim is to bring forward joint recommendations to resolve the current unacceptable situation of massive fee demands placed on our members before the end of May.

Members will be aware that the talks were brought about following the firm stand by members against the fee demand. We entered the talks satisfied that there was a genuine commitment by the parties to resolve the issues but we are ready to ballot members on a boycott if necessary and to consider legal action where appropriate.

1 April 2011 (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markI am pleased to be able to give you some good news. The firm stand taken by members has now led to a significant step forward in our IfL campaign.

On Wednesday UCU and other trade unions held a constructive meeting with John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education & Lifelong Learning, which has led to the firm commitment of all relevant parties - the IfL, Association of Colleges, and trade unions - with the minister facilitating where needed, to seek a resolution of the situation as early as possible in May. Detailed discussions will start as soon possible.

We are satisfied that all parties are looking for a resolution and will not take action to escalate matters in the meantime.

We are continuing to undertake all the necessary preparation for an industrial action ballot to pursue a boycott of IfL registration fees and also are receiving further legal advice on the contractual responsibilities of employers. In order to allow the discussions between the relevant parties to proceed however, we will not open the ballot at this stage but our advice to members remains that they should not pay the fee.

Sally Hunt'

29 March 2011 (member email)

IFL renewal deadline not until *31 May*

Quotation : Quotation markThanks to everyone who turned out today to support our strike. I am writing to you now with some welcome news in our campaign against the hike in IfL fees.

I have now received confirmation that members have until 31 May 2011 to renew and pay the membership subscription for this year (1 April 2011-30 September 2012). IfL have told us that they consider that if the fee is not paid until then, membership will not lapse until 1 June 2011. Our view is that if due process is followed, this might take even longer.

So, our advice remains that members can continue to delay paying their subscriptions while we attempt to achieve an acceptable negotiated alternative. To do this, I need your help.

We need you to help us build the pressure on all parties to come to the table.

If you haven't already done so, please join more than 16,000 of your colleagues and sign the petition against the £68 fee here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/iflpetition. We will use this petition to build pressure on the government and the IfL.

In addition, UCU is beginning a formal ballot on a claim against your employer. We are calling on them to pay your IfL fee subscription otherwise we will orchestrate a collective refusal by members to maintain their IfL membership.Sally Hunt

Sent 16 March 2011 (member email)

Quotation : Quotation markMore than 16,000 UCU members have now signed the petition against the £68 annual fee to be charged from 1 April by the Institute for Learning (IfL): www.ucu.org.uk/iflpetition

We continue to receive more mail about this issue than any other affecting further education staff. We are writing to update you on the union's next steps.

We should start by saying that the union continues to support strongly the need for FE staff to be professionally qualified and developed as is the case in the school sector, but we are clear that the present arrangements have lost the confidence of members who question their relevance in meeting staff development needs. We are, therefore, calling for a national level summit between the unions, the employers and government to review the current arrangements. In the meantime, pressure needs to be brought to bring the parties into the debate.

The union has, therefore, taken detailed legal advice on whether it can organise a collective boycott of IfL by members. We can, but in order to achieve this lawfully we are required to ballot members on a formal claim against each employer and we will do so over the next few weeks.

The claim will be for your employer to pay your IfL subscription for you, otherwise UCU will orchestrate a collective refusal by members to maintain their IfL membership.

It is important to be clear that industrial action of any kind requires members to breach their contract and boycotting IFL which is a statutory requirement for teachers in FE will be no exception. Failure to maintain your membership will, therefore, have direct consequences on your continued employment, though we would expect that well before then we will, with your strong support, have resolved the dispute.

We want to provide some clear advice on your individual position. It is a legal requirement to be a member of IfL. However, we are advised that membership cannot be withdrawn without IfL giving you notice of its intention to terminate your membership. This is so even if your subscriptions are in arrears. Further, your employer cannot, according to our advice, take any steps to terminate your employment for your failure to maintain IfL membership until it has complied with the appropriate dismissal procedure. These processes will take time, especially since IfL themselves seem unclear about how this process will work. But it is likely to take weeks and months and involve some due process rather than simply happen on 1 April.

So, our advice for the time being, is that you can delay paying your subscription until UCU has negotiated a proper and satisfactory resolution of this situation. UCU does not want to jeopardise any member's employment and our advice on subscription payment will be updated as the dispute progresses.

The union will also ballot for local action at any institution where a member or group of members are penalised or treated unfairly for supporting the UCU boycott of IfL. Please therefore continue to support the union while we prepare the official ballot to boycott IfL.

To make the boycott effective we will need large numbers to support it, and we will need to work together.

Sally Hunt

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