Inconsistent quality of teaching, changing demands on leadership and a lack of CPD are among the challenges facing further education, according to a major new report released by the Department for Education today.
The research, by Professor David Greatbatch at Durham University and Dr Sue Tate from the University of the West of England, examines the state of teaching, leadership and governance in the FE sector.
It draws on a comprehensive literature review, as well as in-depth interviews with a number of stakeholders, including representatives of FE bodies and sector experts.
The report says: “The quality of teaching in FE is variable, but nonetheless includes examples of outstanding teaching, with pockets of good teaching and learning even in the weakest colleges.”
However, it is “unclear” to what extent reforms aimed at improving teaching in FE have improved teaching quality, according to the report.
It states: “There is a lack of evidence on how current practices operate to improve quality and improve learners’ outcomes.”
English and maths are areas of particular concern and are “an area of weakness” because of a lack of specialist teachers and insufficient expertise among vocational teachers.
The role of principal “has evolved significantly”, from being the top academic post to one “that combines responsibility for academic matters with that of being the chief executive of a multimillion-pound business”, according to the report.
It states: “Principals and senior leaders who are recruited from within the FE sector do not necessarily have the expertise to lead a large organisation, whilst those who are recruited from outside often do not understand curriculum issues.”
However, large colleges are moving towards team leadership with a “balance between education and non-educational expertise”.
To tackle the problem of making FE more attractive as a career option, “it will be necessary to improve the visibility and perceived status of the sector”, it adds.
The report also highlights the “lack of clarity about the purpose of FE college governance in England”.
While governors “tend to be proficient when scrutinising financial matters”, they are “less confident about challenging the quality of teaching and learning”, it says.
CPD is another area in need of improvement, with fewer than half of FE teachers spending any time on it.
The report concludes that further research is required in a number of areas, not least that of teaching quality.
It says: “A large-scale research study incorporating both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to explore learner outcomes where their teachers have differing levels of teaching qualifications (or none) would help to clarify the impact of ITT [initial teacher training] in the sector.”
Commenting on the new research, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "High-quality teaching, leadership and governance is vital to ensuring excellent outcomes for students.”
He added: “We look forward to reading this report and working with colleges and government to support continued improvements across the sector."