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Colleges employ unqualified staff

Teacher shortages hit maths classes for adults more than any other area of basic skills, a survey of staffing in England and Wales has revealed.

More than seven out of ten colleges, local education authorities, adult and community centres and work-based learning providers responding say shortages lead to difficulties providing courses and programmes.

The first national staffing survey carried out by The TES and Niace shows that shortages are acute at all levels. At levels 23 (GCSE to A-level equivalent) 64 per cent of institutions says staff shortages create difficulties.

But the shortages are most acute at level 4 (higher education), where 76 per cent report staff shortages. New requirements to train staff to this level will be introduced this year, which will put institutions under more pressure than ever.

Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, says: "Part of the problem is the preponderance of part-timers. Also, there are not enough staff to take people off the job of teaching and train them in basic numeracy skills."

The survey shows that a general shortage of teachers has led to staffing difficulties on numeracy courses. In other areas, shortages are only slightly less problematic. Shortages lead to difficulties teaching English for speakers of other languages in 59 per cent of institutions. Literacy classes are marginally better than numeracy, with 70 per cent of institutions reporting difficulties.

Many institutions offer incentives to attract basic skills staff but with mixed responses. One college offers "progressive pay scales for basic skills tutors". A local authority education service offers "free accommodation for a time". Some providers say they provide "competitive pay scales" anyway.

But there is still concern that too often incentives have not attracted a high enough calibre of applicant.

The recruitment crisis at level 4 may ease off in the the relatively near future, but not by much. In responding to the survey, managers make comments such as: "Staff expectedto have, or train towards, qualification Level 4."

Equally, others make comments such as: there is "little availability of Level 4 training".

Under the Government's Skills for Life strategy, one aim is to fix numeracy training into wider further and adult education and training. But this requires more professionally trained tutors and time off for other non-maths staff. However, the survey reveals that such training, the people to deliver it and release-time to study are almost non-existent.

Alan Tuckett said: "If we are going to embed basic skills in other disciplines we will need a lot more staff in these areas who can manage both things."

But the survey shows that on average 30 per cent of institutions depend on part-time and hourly-paid staff to teach what is expected under the Government's Skills for Life programmes. Possibly more disturbing is the finding that one in six colleges and training providers report that they combat tutor shortages by employing staff without the necessary Level 23 and 4 qualifications.

But this only serves to create a further problem since, the survey also shows, those with a high quota of part-time or hourly staff cannot predict shortfalls in supply.

"This is a serious issue for everyone, particularly in teaching and learning numeracy," says Alan Tuckett. "When you consider the next phase on the strategy and the need to reach another 2 million adults, there will be more pressure than ever on the institutions."

The complexity of the staffing arrangements, the dominance of part-time and hourly staff and the use of external agencies - particularly in colleges - leaves many institutions unable to say how many teachers and at what level of skills are available to teach adult numeracy.

A small minority of institutions (13 per cent) believe that the training opportunities available are "limited or poor".

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