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High stakes, low pay

The work of Skills for Life teachers is said to be crucial to the country's economic health, but the money they receive is poor. Ian Nash reports

the government is winning the pound;3 billion war on illiteracy and poor maths skills among adults. But teachers are paying the price with low pay and a mountain of paperwork.

Strong evidence of the impact Skills for Life is having socially and economically has emerged from a study involving more than 1,000 teachers on the programme. It was created in 2003 to tackle, by 2007, a hard core of 1.5 million adults lacking basic skills.

Adults who complete a basic maths course increase their average yearly earnings by pound;558. They are also highly motivated by their teachers, the study by the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy shows.

But teachers, in what is seen as one of the toughest jobs in FE, earn relatively little: pound;25,350 full-time, pound;15,000 part-time and Pounds 19.63 if they are paid hourly.

Nevertheless, staff are highly motivated and the majority have no immediate plans to leave. Four out of five believe they will still be teaching Skills for Life in 2008, spurred on by levels of student satisfaction and success.

The NRDC study has come up with a "composite" picture of the average teacher. She is a 46-year-old white woman graduate with eight years' experience in teaching. One in five teachers are men and only 2 to 3 per cent are from black or Asian backgrounds.

Interviews, conducted in confidence, reveal the depth of feelings - positive and negative. One commented: "Like many of my colleagues who are hourly paid, I feel that we are overworked and underpaid. It seems that teaching has taken a back seat and that achievement and accountability is more important."

But they welcome the programme's national curriculum.

"It is useful to have that (Skills for Life) framework because it means we are all singing from the same song sheet," said another teacher.

"Our students move around a lot, they travel for work, and if they are halfway through a maths course here they can pick it up at another college quite easily now, because it is the same curriculum."

Many teachers are grateful for cash, available nationally for the first time, to tackle basic skills and problems in areas such as English for speakers of other languages.

One said: "The Skills for Life materials aren't brilliant but the fact that they exist is a good platform for a lot of teachers. The recognition that it has brought for English for speakers of other languages is great."

Further survey findings are in Four Years On, NRDC 2005-6 See publication highlights at www.nrdc.org.uk

REALITIES OF SKILLS FOR LIFE TEACHING

In the three months before the study:

72% of teachers had taught people with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

46% had taught students with mental health problems.

44% had taught students with mobility problems or disabilities.

59% of teachers said they spent too much time on administration.

77% said they felt their line manager did value and recognise their work.

57% were happy with their teaching environment.

75% are employed by FE colleges, with the rest evenly split between local education authorities and private training organisations.

26% have a postgraduate qualification.

65% have a degree or equivalent. Teachers with degree-level qualifications earn 12-15% more than less well-qualified colleagues.

9% have an A-level equivalent or lesser qualification.

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