Although the drift away is only small, senior managers say it has reversed a long tradition of movement from schools to FE and that it will quickly become a flood unless moves are made to boost lecturers' pay and conditions. The lecturers' union NATFHE is seeking urgent talks with employers on a national framework for all colleges.
Evidence of a disturbing rise in numbers quitting the sector will emerge in a pay claim from the Association for College Management.
John Mowbray, ACM general secretary, predicted the exodus would become a major issue within five years. "Colleges will not be able to retain high-quality teachers, especially in areas such as information technology."
David Mason, principal of Amersham and Wycombe College, has seen an increase in lecturers leaving his college for school posts. Although numbers were small, he is concerned that more staff will see that "the grass is greener" away from FE.
"There was a time when it was thought to be a huge bonus for a school teacher to be promoted to work in FE," he said. "Now lecturers are looking at schools and seeing they can earn slightly better salaries and get longer holidays. "
Last year, the Association of Colleges recommended lecturers be awarded a 2.5 per cent pay rise, but not all colleges paid it in full. School teachers received staged awards of 3.3 per cent and will receive 3.8 per cent for 1998-99.
In its recent pay claim to the association, NATFHE said the average gross salary for FE teachers was about Pounds 18,000, compared with Pounds 21, 000 or more earned by three-quarters of school staff.
Holiday entitlements for FE vary, but it is not unusual for a lecturer to have seven weeks compared to up to 13 weeks when schools are closed to pupils. The proportion of the teacher leave which is holiday and how much is spent working is hard to determine.
Janet Martin, assistant secretary for salaries at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said teachers of shortage subjects could demand a fairly high starting salary if they switched from college to school.
"People prefer the ethos and security of working in a local education authority, whereas FE colleges are strapped for cash," she said.
The ACM is highlighting "glaring differences" between colleges and schools in its pay submission to the AOC. Russell Woodrow, principal of Stanmore College in north London, said: "There is definitely a perception among lecturers that the school sector is being better funded and the Governmentis recognising cost-of-living increases."
Nick Lewis, principal of Broxtowe College in Nottingham, admitted that his college tried to keep lecturers' salaries down to reduce costs. He said:
"We have got to the point where we are underpaying and it's hard to hang on to staff."
Paul Mackney, NATFHE general secretary, said the union was seeking urgent talks with the AOC on a range of issues relating to pay and conditions. "The AOC is in disarray with the departure of Roger Ward (the chief executive) and now the board. We cannot wait for the new elections and appointments. The issues facing the sector are too urgent."