College staff feel increasingly good about their working lives and their future, survey reveals. Morale among college staff has improved for the third year running, according to an independent survey that suggests further education's days as the Cinderella sector could soon be numbered.
Lecturers and their non-teaching colleagues feel increasingly valued and optimistic about their careers, says the study by RCU, a research and consultancy service.
While staff who report having "low morale" still outnumber their more optimistic colleagues, the survey suggests the balance is close to tipping in favour of those who feel good about their jobs and FE in general.
And taking into account the "don't knows", those who say they are still down in the dumps are outnumbered by nearly three to one.
The research, to be published on December 21, suggests that FE - long seen by many as the poor relation of schools and universities - consists of lecturers and other staff who are increasingly positive about their working lives.
Sue Dutton, acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "It's fantastic to see workforce morale improving. This is evidence that changes in further education are having a positive effect - changes such as a stronger focus on learners, more government attention for FE, increased professionalism among staff, improvements in teaching and learning and quality, greater attention paid to reputation and new powers for colleges across the country."
The report is part of RCU's "national benchmarking service", which has examined the perceptions of 6,500 staff over three years.
This academic year, 32.3 per cent described morale as high and 36.8 per cent said it was low, with the remainder undecided.
Those reporting high morale made up 31.2 per cent of staff in 2005-6 and 28.9 per cent in 2004-5. Over the same period, the proportion citing low morale has fallen from 39.6 in 2004-5.
Sixth-form colleges rated more highly than general FE institutions when staff were asked about quality of teamworking, appraisal and the overall approach to teaching.
Researchers said this might be due to the dynamics of sixth-form colleges, as smaller more narrowly focused institutions, rather than the quality of management and staff. The RCU says it may investigate the differences between sixth-form colleges and general FE colleges more closely in future surveys.
Staff in colleges generally say they are made to feel part of a team, but those in sixth-form colleges are more likely to feel they are treated with respect by their employers than those in general FE colleges.
While employers will be encouraged by the findings, one longstanding issue shows little sign of receding: pay - especially among general FE college lecturers, who still lag behind schoolteachers by about 10 per cent.
Staff were asked how strongly they agreed with certain statements, and the lowest-ranked, at 54th, was: "My salaryremuneration is a fair reward for the work I do."