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Golden hellos come too late

Incentives for basic skills recruitment miss boat this year. Ian Nash reports

The extension of the pound;4,000 "golden hellos" to attract new lecturers in basic skills have come too late to have any impact on recruitment this year, college employers have told the Government.

And, in the past year, only 43 new further education teachers in key shortage areas have gone through the necessary processing to have student loans of up to pound;11,000 repaid, official figures show.

College leaders also insist that the wrong subjects have been targeted for golden hellos. The Department for Education and Skills's approved list includes shortage subjects in schools, plus basic skills, construction and the teaching of English for speakers of other languages.

But some of the most critical shortages - particularly in sixth-form colleges - are in psychology and sports studies, where demand has reached record levels.

Sue Whitham, head of the secretariat of the Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum, said: "I have surveyed colleges year after year and constantly drawn the department's attention to the real areas of need, but to no avail."

The way golden hellos were given last year was "a farce", she said.

"Staff who signed-up with every intention of staying in college found retrospectively that they could claim the money. Meanwhile, colleges are complaining that they simply cannot recruit psychologists."

The DfES has asked the Further Education National Training Organisation to pay urgent attention to publicity aimed at boosting the uptake of golden hellos and student loan repayments.

But Ivor Jones, director of employment for the Association of Colleges, said: "The problem is that they are not publicising them outside the sector to a wide enough audience."

The department was also slow in alerting colleges, he said. "Many colleges have had no official notification of the extension to include basic skills."

The association's annual recruitment and retention survey of 400 colleges also revealed a struggle to fill key areas not on the shortage list. And a Fento survey for 2002 highlighted other problem areas. For example, 57.7 per cent of colleges had experienced significant or worse difficulties in recruiting accountancy lecturers.

The Learning and Skills Council, which is responsible for administering golden hellos, defended the retrospective payments to staff who had already signed up.

A spokesman said: "It's a question of damned if you do and damned if you don't. There is no fixed end date and it makes sense to make them available to all recruits in the shortage subject.

"Clearly, the extension of golden hellos last autumn will remain a recruitment incentive for people this autumn."

A spokesman for the DfES said: "It will take time for these initiatives to have an impact on FE but we expect to fund around 2,000 golden hellos and 2,000 teacher loans. We are consulting with employer bodies, unions and Fento, and talking to the LSC about a shortage subjects review."

The latest list of subjects qualifying for golden hellos and repayment of teachers' loans is: construction, design and technology, engineering, English (including drama), information and communications technology, adult basic skills, maths modern languages, science and Welsh.

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