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Action needed on tutor training

Survey reveals serious shortage of adult skills teachers. Ian Nash reports

Two-thirds of colleges and adult training centres are struggling to meet the G`overnment's literacy and numeracy targets because of a serious shortage of staff, a national survey reveals.

Many depend on an army of under-qualified hourly-paid and part-time tutors to bridge the gaps, the first annual staffing survey by The TES and National Institute of Adult Continuing Education shows.

Ivan Lewis, adult skills minister, responded to the survey by calling for a national audit of skills within the workforce to find suitable candidates to train as tutors.

Susan Pember, director of the Government's basic adult skills strategy unit, has also urged senior managers to make better use of new training schemes that colleges are slow to take up.

Further education colleges, which provide the majority of adult basic skills training, are struggling hardest to run the full range of courses.

The survey results are all the more disturbing because a further study to be published by Niace next week shows that adult par-ticipation in education, at 19 per cent, is the lowest it has been since Labour came to power.

Basic numeracy skills are where the shortages have hit hardest the TES\Niace survey shows, with 71 per cent of further education colleges, local education adult and community centres and work-based learning providers reporting shortages.

Literacy was close behind, with 70 per cent reporting problems. English for speakers of other languages was the area best able to cope. Even so, senior managers in over half (54 per cent) of colleges reported problems caused directly by staff shortages.

Around 40 per cent of basic skills tutors are paid by the hour or on part-time contracts. The dependence is greater than in any other area of the college curriculum, where the average is 30 per cent.

Some college managers responding to the survey said they liked the flexibility of short contracts, but most said it was forced on them.

Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said: "The Government's programme to improve adult basic skills has been one of its success stories - but for how long can it continue?" The relative decline overall in adult participation and increased squeeze on colleges showed urgent need for attention.

Mr Lewis said: "What your survey exposes is that there's a cultural issue to be addressed. Probably the greatest challenge for workforce development is to make sure we have people on the front line.

"Every college should do an audit of its staff to see which of them has these skills. It may be that there are quite a number of people who could go into this work."

Ms Pember said that while the survey did reveal cause for concern, significant strides were made over the past three years of the Government's skills strategy. "If staff are well trained and motivated it does not matter if they are part time. We have facilitators and experts colleges can invite in to help managers and tutors get qualified."

The survey revealed the need for urgent action on training, since many tutors lacked confidence in the training available and felt that basic skills teaching was a career cul-de-sac.

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