Labour's general election pledge to introduce qualified teacher status for all lecturers is unlikely to be met for at least a year.
The introduction of compulsory training for newly appointed lecturers - linked to a new professional qualification - is likely to depend upon the work of a staff development forum set up last year by the Conservative government.
The forum, chaired by former Further Education Funding Council chief inspector Terry Melia, is looking at research carried out in different parts of the UK before recommending a set of occupational standards that could form the basis of a new lecturers' qualification.
Although compulsory FE teacher training is not expected to appear in this year's education Bills, a spokesman for Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett said it was still a high government priority.
Its introduction could coincide with the setting up of a general teaching council in England and Wales, which will also take in the FE sector.
Lecturers need no qualification to teach in FE at present. Many are employed for their expertise in a particular subject, although colleges often encourage them to take a certificate in education for non-graduates, or a postgraduate certificate or diploma geared to FE teaching.
None of these qualifications leads to the QTS required of teachers in primary and secondary schools. Staff who have transferred to FE colleges from schools, however, should already have QTS. The same is also true of most lecturers in sixth-form colleges which, before incorporation, came under school regulations.
One of the tasks facing the forum, made up of 20 leading practitioners from the FE world, has been to look at the wide range of qualifications held by full-time and part-time lecturers.
It is also studying occupational standards drawn up in Scotland (see below right) and comparing them with a mapping exercise, outlining the skills required by teaching and non-teaching personnel in colleges. This was carried out in 1995 by the Further Education Development Agency.
At FEDA's annual conference in March, Bryan Davies, then a shadow education minister, proposed compulsory qualifications for new lecturers. He also promised better in-service training, a staffing review focusing on the role of part-time teachers and representation for FE lecturers on a future GTC.
John Brenchley, the agency's director of training and a member of the staff development forum, said lecturer training had slipped down the agenda in most colleges since the 1980s because of budgetary pressures.
He recognised that, while colleges want to employ staff qualified in their specialist area, a teaching qualification was still essential. "Qualified staff can bring with them the full repertoire of expert skills which ensure that a wider range of students will benefit from their teaching."
If FE staff gain the equivalent of QTS, says Mr Brenchley, it would open up the possibility of teachers transferring from colleges to schools. But the forum had decided against trying to impose a set of standards, expected early next year.
"The logical course is for the forum to do the work that it was set up to do and for colleges to recognise the importance of having professional standards," Mr Brenchley said. "We are throwing down the gauntlet and seeing whether the sector is interested."
Research by the lecturers' union NATFHE suggests that at least four out of five full-time lecturers have a teaching qualification. But training is less common among the estimated 200,000 part-time staff also working in colleges.
Derek Betts, Natfhe's head of policy, said some part-timers who work fewer than 10 hours per week do not even receive any form of induction training, yet up to one-third of a typical college's staffing budget is accounted for by part-time lecturers.
"I have no doubt that some of the qualifications held by FE staff are quite high," he said. "The weakness is that we don't have QTS or any form of starting standard which applies to all new entrants. That is bound to be on the agenda of a GTC and the staff development forum."
If training is made compulsory for new lecturers, more higher education institutions will be required to offer PGCEs and other qualifications. With courses for schoolteachers increasingly dominated by the national curriculum, HE institutions have already been encouraged to develop more programmes focusing on FE. Fewer than 20 are known to offer FE teaching qualifications, however, and just four run pre-service training.
According to Richard Harris, a programme leader at Bolton Institute of Higher Education which runs per-service programmes for undergraduates and postgraduates, colleges are increasingly looking for staff with some form of professional teaching qualification.
"It's a way in which FE employers separate candidates," he explained. "They value having people with a teaching qualification because it means they are better able to cope with inspections."
Compulsory training and the indentification of uniform standards would give FE teacher training a sharper focus while the awarding of QTS, currently seen only as a technical issue, would raise the status of lecturers. "It would send out a strong message that teaching and learning is an important part of the process," said Mr Harris.