FE teachers face higher workload than those in schools

UCU report calls for colleges to be placed at the heart of the lifelong learning system

Julia Belgutay

A new report by the UCU calls for colleges to be placed at the heart of the lifelong learning strategy and for their life-changing role to be recognised

Teachers in further education institutions have a higher workload than those in schools, according to a new report.

The research, entitled Transformative Teaching and Learning in Further Education and published by the University and College Union (UCU) today, points out that while secondary school teachers reportedly teach between 20 and 21 hours per week, its sample suggests “that a much higher total of teaching hours per week is common in colleges”.

“At the upper end of this, 19 per cent – very nearly a fifth of respondents – reported teaching more than 27 hours per week.”

The authors add: “Anyone who has taught full time knows that a weekly workload of that number of hours for longer than a few weeks is likely to lead to health problems. In the context of this report, when viewed alongside other factors, we would argue that such a workload will considerably reduce teachers’ ability to facilitate transformative teaching and learning.”

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The report goes on to say that further education teachers and managers spend “a significant amount of time supporting students outside the classroom, with 46 per cent of further education teachers reported spending more than 4 hours per week supporting students outside the classroom.

“This ranged in nature from providing additional support for students to complete classroom work, to helping individuals manage bigger issues related to budgets, housing and personal relationships – issues which, unless resolved, can make learning difficult or impossible to achieve. This was also true for managers, a third of whom reported spending more than eight hours  a week providing this type of support to students.”

Heart of communities

The report calls for changes to college funding and for the institutions to be placed at the heart of a lifelong learning system.

“Adult education is necessary for personal enrichment and growth throughout the life course, and colleges are ideally placed to deliver it,” say the authors.  “Compulsory education alone is not enough to meet the needs of the rapid changes in the world of work, now and in the coming years.

“Without the hope that further and adult education  offers there can be little optimism for social justice and a future based on choice for all.”

The report stresses that colleges are situated at the heart of their communities, have a long-standing and deep-rooted understanding of their local industries and understand their students’ needs. 

College funding

The authors say their research exposes how the existing funding mechanism and market model does not put students’ interests first, “but instead objectifies them in a number of ways”.

“First, the ‘skills’ discourse positions further education as primarily important for the purpose of human capital (i.e. labour) production. Second, the current qualification framework enforces a binary and deficit-based perception of young people as being either ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’, which causes structural disadvantage to some students. Third, cuts of more than 25 per cent to budgets for adult learning mean that the recruitment of students has become a ‘bums on seats’ exercise,” they say.  

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said colleges were “constrained by a short-sighted approach to funding and policy which doesn’t match the diverse needs of students”. “It is time to overhaul how further education is funded so that colleges’ crucial role in delivering social justice is properly recognised.”

'Education is more than numbers'

And shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who wrote the foreword of the report, said it was a reminder that “education is about more than numbers – it’s about the people like me whose lives have been transformed by learning”. “I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for my local college giving me a second chance at education. Labour’s National Education Service would invest more in colleges and support them to give people from all walks of life the power to take control over their own future and thrive.”

Co-author Professor Vicky Duckworth said: “Colleges have a key role that makes them much more than simply a component in the supply of skills for employers. Our research shows how they help re-build damaged learner identities and offer people from diverse communities hope, agency and a positive orientation towards the future. However, policy and funding need to acknowledge the important role colleges are playing by providing flexible and part-time routes, not just as an additional part of a linear system.”


  • The authors call for a funding model that takes proper account of the socio-economic factors of the students that colleges are providing for.
  • The wraparound role of colleges in addressing students’ needs must be acknowledged as an important aspect of further education pedagogy – by government, by funders, by Ofsted.
  • Colleges should be re-positioned centrally as the non-linear model of education that is required for the twenty-first century.
  • Colleges need to be freed up from the prescriptive time-limits on the courses they offer – that are imposed irrespective of the (educational and socioeconomic) backgrounds of the students they provide for.
  • College governance needs to be locally and democratically reconfigured.
  • A dynamic national website which is populated by schools, employers, learners and families is needed.
  • Authors propose a localised further education system in which colleges are viewed as important epicentres of social inclusion and cohesion that connect to schools pre-entry and employers and HE on exit.
  • They also call for a holistic approach to engaging with questions of sustainable development that involves all stakeholders in educational systems



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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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