COLLEGES which top the A-level league tables say they are facing a recruitment crisis as policies to raise teaching standards have backfired on Tony Blair's Government.
Sixth-form colleges ranking alongside the most elite selective public schools in the league tables are losing many of their best teachers because they cannot match the pay and conditions offered by schools.
Now they have been told they are not recognised as institutions to induct newly-qualified teachers under the training regulations approved by the Department for Education and Employment.
The department has also confirmed that sixth-form college staff will qualify only for "provisional" membership of the General Teaching Council, even though nine out of 10 already have qualified teacher status.
David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, admitted that he knew nothing about the DFEE decision on induction when he met a delegation of employers and unions earlier this summer.
Sue Whitham, general secretary of the Sixth Form College Employers Forum, said: "This is the failure of one part of the DFEE to communicate with another. I understand that the Government wants to improve standards but this is not the way to do it."
The crisis over recruitment and status is potentially even more embarrassing for Mr Blair. His Downing Street policy unit has suggested a new wave of such colleges, combining small, financially unviable sixth forms to save them from closure. A secure future for sixth forms is a key policy in holding on to the middle England voter.
The problems facing sixth-form colleges are part of a wider pay and recruitment crisis in further education. It has united the employer organisations and unions representing teaching and support staff in all 450 colleges in England as never before. Later this autumn they will present a demand for a Houghton-style pay award (restoring levels) to help to put things right.
Such a claim is likely to include a minimum rise of 7 per cent in addition to the next annual pay settlement and extra cash for key resources and support staff.
Sixth-form colleges were net importers of teachers from schools in the early 1990s, attracting four times more schools than they lost. But last year saw a sharp reversal as recruitment stagnated and the 110 colleges lost 158 teachers to schools and recruited 120.
The surveys were carried out by the sixth-form employers forum which has warned that the exodus will be even greater this year. Poor pay and conditions were the overwhelming reasons given for quitting college to teach in school.
Surveys by the forum and the Association of Colleges show that lecturers now teach up to 200 hours more a year, including evening classes, and earn pound;600 less than teachers doing the same jobs in schools. The schools spend pound;1,500 a year on average more per three-A-level student. The Government has pledged to create a level playing-field. But the recent post-16 White Paper, Learning to Succeed gave no details.
Sue Whitham told The TES: "We are caught out on all sides. Staff are leaving for better pay and conditions: they will not want to come to us newly qualified from college and they no longer find it attractive to switch from school."
A spokeswoman for the Association of Colleges said there was a deeper crisis for all colleges: "They are not just losing qualified teachers but support staff who are quitting for better pay in the private sector. There are particular problems with healthcare and information technology assistants.
"We expect the issue to be addressed in year three of the comprehensive spending review," she added. While there was an extra pound;1 billion in the sector over two years, that did not include increased demands on the pay bill.