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The grass isn't greener in schools

Val MacAdam reports on why lecturers are reluctant to move

Will further education be a recruiting ground for the extra 4,000 teachers the Scottish Executive hopes to recruit over the next few years?

It makes sense: a sizeable percentage of lecturers started off in schools and have teaching qualifications. Once FE offered better pay and conditions. Now the post-McCrone deal for schools could change all that particularly as job security in FE remains a contentious issue.

Latest figures for the top of the FE lecturer scale show salaries ranging from pound;23,796 to pound;26,657 in the 30 colleges which have struck agreements. Top earnings for classroom teachers will rise from pound;25,644 next month to pound;28,707 by 2003.

Our enquiries suggest schools may have to look elsewhere. Liz Gallacher, aged 54, a permanent part-time lecturer at Anniesland College in Glasgow, trained as an English teacher in the 1970s. After several years at secondary schools here and in Germany, she did an MA in applied linguistics.

"There were more opportunities in FE for regular part-time work, and more flexible working patterns. As a single parent, it suited me better".

After McCrone, would she return? "Not everyone in FE could switch back. I now teach English as a Second or other Language, for example, so my opportunities in schools would be limited. Besides, I suspect a lot of local authorities wouldn't want older teachers because they would be too far up the pay scale".

Age is a consideration in other respects. "I have been out for such a long time that there would be a lot of catching up to do. I don't know much about Higher Still."

She adds: "FE is stressful, but the fact you are teaching adults takes that little bit of pressure off."

Although McCrone stresses the importance of continuing professional development, it is not clear if potential "returners" would receive any funding towards upgrading skills.

Only ne of 10 lecturers interviewed for this article would consider a return to schools. This had nothing to do with McCrone, and was for personal reasons. The main deterrent appears to be discipline.

One full-time lecturer at a Glasgow college described passing the school where she did her teaching practice."When I saw the way the kids were carrying on in the playground, I thought there's no way I could put myself through that again."

Schools, she says, have become a political battleground. "Lack of discipline is symptomatic of much wider societal problems, but teachers are supposed to be there to teach - not to police kids."

A more recent entrant to FE is Graham Robertson, aged 33. After 10 years in schools, he took up a full-time lecturing post in communication at James Watt College last summer. "I just felt swamped", Mr Robertson, a former senior guidance teacher at Coatbridge High, says. "I was doing about 900 jobs and none of them that well."

Didn't McCrone tempt him to stay? "Actually, no. McCrone would have made my old job doubly precarious. It makes no mention of guidance, and it also proposes getting rid of senior teachers. I now have better pay, better conditions, more attentive students and fewer discipline problems. Compared to schools, FE is a walk in the park."

The main factor in his decision to leave was class size: "The largest class I have now has 20 students. That would have been a luxury before".

So would he ever go back? "No way. I have lots of friends still in teaching. They are all desperate to jump ship." All those interviewed did agree, however, that FE needs a similar review but there is a major stumbling block.

"Without collective bargaining there can be no McCrone-style review of FE," says Robert Paterson, an assistant principal at Langside College in Glasgow.

A spokesman for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council says that none is planned.

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