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Help at hand for wannabe lecturers

Despite strikes over low pay, an advice line is still taking hundreds of calls a week from people wanting to teach in FE. Ngaio Crequer reports

It could be you. The stockbroker was interested in a change of career - why not try further education? His phone call to a help line did not last long. They told him about the pay.

In fact, for those not in the stockbroker bracket, it might be a good idea. All the publicity has been about low pay, the gap between lecturers and school teachers. But Education Secretary Charles Clarke did say last week that his record funding deal would substantially narrow the gap in funding paid to school sixth forms and colleges. Mr Clarke challenged FE colleges to use the additional resources to sort out pay. The industrial action planned for December was suspended. On top of this, last month the Learning and Skills Council announced a scheme of golden hellos worth up to pound;4,000 each for new entrants to FE teaching.

They are available in eight shortage subjects: maths, science, ICT, engineering, construction, English (including drama), modern languages, and design and technology. These have been introduced because FE has a real problem in recruiting and retaining staff in key subjects, as the figures below show.

The Further Education National Training Organisation (Fento) is now getting up to 60 calls, and half as many emails, each day from people interested in teaching in FE. The callers are not only from the UK, but also Cyprus, Hong Kong, Egypt, and India, and many are completely lacking in knowledge about what qualifications they might need.

Previously, many calls were going to the Department for Education and Skills, but officials there realised they needed expert advice from people in the field. So the department is helping to fund the Fento helpline, manned by its own staff and people seconded from colleges.

John Clossick, Fento's professional development adviser, said: "The calls have been wide-ranging and diverse: from people just finishing university degrees, to adult returners, to people wanting to switch their careers. And with so many different qualifications in existence, people want to know how theirs dovetail in."

From September 2001, it became mandatory for new FE teachers to hold or work towards a recognised teaching qualification. Ministers - and indeed those professionals working in the sector - are keen to ensure that added to their knowledge of their subject, lecturers are also qualified to teach.

Fento estimates that only about 64 per cent of lecturers are actually qualified as teaching staff. "There is plenty of interest in FE out there," said Mr Clossick. "But people have not known where to turn to. Some have been pushed from pillar to post, and it is emotionally wearing. We are not social workers but we do engage with people and give them space to think and talk."

Callers are sent information packs which detail which organisations offer training, what qualifications are needed, and the funding support systems that exist.

Further Education National Training Organisation helpline: 020 7421 2362

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