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Lecturers' free route into schools;FE Focus

Lecturers are being offered a free escape route from further education and into new careers as school -teachers.

The new-style training course - launched on the back of Government initiatives to attract new recruits to school teaching - has angered management and lecturers' unions who insist the stress should be on retaining lecturers and raising standards in FE teaching.

While principals complain increasingly about difficulties in attracting quality staff, a West Midlands college is preparing to train lecturers and make it easier for them to leave the FE sector.

Those with FE teaching qualifications are currently barred from becoming schoolteachers because their training did not lead to qualified teacher status (QTS). Staff are forced to undertake a further one year's full-time training to upgrade their qualifications.

But Bilston Community College, near Wolverhampton, is offering lecturers the chance to shortcut this process and take a course leading to QTS at the same time as teaching in a school.

The conversion course, run in partnership with Wolverhampton University, will be available from September as an employment-based route into teaching, promoted by Government to help schools overcome their own staff shortages.

Assistant principal Robin Landman said Bilston was responding to market demand and denied that the college was trying to encourage any staff to leave further education.

"Many lecturers are made redundant from colleges because of restructuring," he said. "We want to provide them with career opportunities which allow them to remain in education."

Forty former lecturers are expected to join the programme in September after taking up new posts in schools. Each will receive a grant from the Teacher Training Agency to cover their fees.

Christine Parsons, manager of higher education training at Bilston, said the staff would probably spend one day per week on the course, although individual learning programmes, including residential training, would be negotiated with schools. Places would be available through the college's London base as well as in the West Midlands.

Employment-based routes provide an alternative way into teaching for people seeking a change in career who hold professional or vocational qualifications which form the basis for working in a classroom. They can be a major asset for schools struggling to fill shortage subjects such as technology and modern languages.

The Association for College Management warned last month that lecturers were turning their backs on further education because pay and conditions were better in schools.

The lecturers' union, NATFHE, highlighted glaring salary differences between colleges and schools in its recent pay claim.

Dan Taubman, NATFHE's national negotiating official, recognised Bilston had identified a gap in the training market but said he would prefer colleges to concentrate on helping lecturers to perform better in FE. "It's a growing concern to us that lecturers are looking to move into the school sector," he said.

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