Lecturers swayed by rich pickings

Salaries of pound;60,000 are attracting staff to turn from the chalkface to the `poor relation' job of evaluating students' work

LECTURERS ARE earning up to pound;60,000 a year by giving up full-time classroom jobs and joining a booming market for assessors, says the UK's largest further education staff agency.

For years the assessor's role, where specially qualified lecturers evaluate students' performance on vocational courses, was seen as a poor relation to teaching, offering lower pay and uncertainty. But, says Protocol National, the Government's drive to raise the number of people with level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications and the growth in work-based training through Train to Gain is raising demand for these specialists.

In extreme cases, highly paid assessors have earned about double the salary of a curriculum manager in many colleges and are competing with the salaries of some vice-principals.

Protocol National says its highest earner - who declined to be named and interviewed - was paid more than pound;60,000, and several others earned more than pound;50,000 last year by mixing working as assessors with supply teaching.

The University and College Union warned lecturers to look at the agency's offer with scepticism. Barry Lovejoy, the union's head of colleges, said:

"Those sort of sums people can claim, but if it means they are working excessive hours, that can't be good for quality."

He added that some lecturers working for agencies in teaching roles, rather than as assessors, had seen pay rates frozen for the past four years, casting doubts on whether agencies could really provide high incomes for many lecturers. "But it could have a knock-on effect in terms of recruitment," he conceded.

"There's a possibility that those colleges who aren't paying the required rates could see a leakage of people in the short term, in the same way people leave colleges for schools or go back into industry."

There is particularly high demand for assessors in construction, hospitality and catering, retail and social care.

Most of the 25,000 assessors on Protocol National's books are lecturers who work on a supply basis at colleges. Over 70 per cent of those with the qualifications to work as assessors have never used them, the agency says, and at the moment just 1,500 of them are taking up assessor jobs, blaming the dearth on what it says is an outdated view of the role as low-paid and insecure.

Phil Harrison, the chief executive of Protocol National, said: "Assessors are certainly no longer the poor relation. There's plenty of work out there and, through our relationships with colleges and training providers, we can offer contracts that are as substantial or small as people require."

He believes the demand for assessors will increase as the Train to Gain programme expands to provide 500,000 people with level 2 qualifications by 2010.

Mr Harrison said that the image of assessors may already be changing. The rate of registrations almost tripled in the past month to 354 from a previous monthly average of about 131.

"Clearly, we can see that individuals in the sector are starting to realise the potential that an assessor's position can hold and want to take advantage of this new opportunity," he said.

Many may have to update their skills, however, with the old qualifications such as D32 having been replaced by a new A1 assessor and V1 internal verifier award.

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