INCREASING numbers of colleges are appointing a new breed of "super lecturer" or advanced lecturer - using government money designed to boost the appeal of teaching in further education.
Following the decision of Derby College more than two years ago to create learning directors - combining teaching and management duties - other colleges are following its lead and inviting staff to earn up to pound;2,000 per year extra by taking a step up the promotion ladder.
Derby began appointing learning directors in 1999 - more than a year before the Government announced the teachers' pay initiative (TPI) - after the then education secretary David Blunkett unveiled plans for super teachers in schools to earn up to pound;40,000 a year.
There are currently 33 learning directors at the Midlands college. But the unions and some colleges have warned that the initiative will not succeed nationally without a better funding structure than that being created for lecturers.
Colleges receive extra money from their local learning and skills council for promoting staff to the grade of advanced practitioner, or senior tutor, as well as for making other payments where teachers can be shown to be encouraging students to stay on and raising standards.
To earn promotion, lecturers must be willing to continue teaching as well as taking responsibility for mentoring other staff and helping with new initiatives. Although emphasis must be placed on retention and students' achievements, colleges may come up with their own models.
Blackpool and the Fylde College has 19 senior tutors spread across its 12 academic schools. Each is responsible for teaching and learning or for pastoral care. To accommodate their new role, the tutors have moved onto the management pay spine and had their teaching timetables cut by three hours per week.
During their time away from regular classes, they are expected to assist colleagues, observe lessons and disseminate best practice. "For some it was a significant jump," says vice principal Felicity Greeves. "We took the best classroom teachers - those with leadership and mentoring skills - rather than simply making it the next stage of promotion."
The TPI, worth pound;305 million over three years, may also be used to fund one-off payments to lecturers in recognition of professional development as well as boosting pay and conditions for part-time staff. Many colleges are rewarding teachers under more than one criterion.
According to the Learning and Skills Council, 376 out of the 404 colleges in England had applied for TPI funding by the end of December. Those which had yet to apply received reminders last month.
Discussions are taking place between the council and the Department for Education and Skills to decide whether colleges must apply for funding again in 20022 and 20034 or whether they will automatically qualify.
Even where money is available until 20034, there is no guarantee beyond that. Whereas Blackpool has made its senior tutors permanent appointments, other colleges are reluctant to look too far ahead.
Rotherham College appointed 15 senior tutors, each focusing on pastoral care. They work with staff in the student services department and other areas of the college to improve retention.
Principal John Rockett, who is president of the Association for College Management, is firmly behind the advanced practitioner concept, but says his college cannot afford permanent promotions until it knows whether long-term funding is available. Instead, each senior tutor was offered a pound;2,000 bonus for this year only.
"It does not appear as if they are getting a pay rise," he says. "It is more like paying a commission to a salesman and saying 'you achieve more and we'll pay you more'."
Barry Lovejoy, national FE official of the lecturers' union NATFHE, says the TPI is no more than a "sticking plaster" solution which is failing to tackle the long-term pay crisis in colleges. Fewer than half the colleges which have received money are consolidating the payments in the form of higher salaries, he said.
Dorothy Jones, principal of Southwark College, said it was vital that the money did not dry up. The south London college has awarded pound;2,000 rises to four newly-created senior tutors. "If the Government comes along in three years' time and says it's not paying more then I'll wonder what its commitment to pay is," she says.