Last November, FE minister John Hayes announced, with much fanfare, plans for bursaries to support trainee FE teachers and help them to cope with the rising tuition fees they face. The bursaries would, he suggested, be comparable to the help available to would-be schoolteachers.
With sums of between #163;5,000 and #163;20,000 on offer to those training to work in schools, Mr Hayes' words offered some reassurance to those who feared a recruitment crisis in initial teacher training (ITT) could be on the way.
But any comfort has proved to be short-lived. Last week it emerged that bursaries of just #163;1,000 will be made available to up to 10,000 trainees studying for either a diploma or a level 6 PGCE in FE teaching. An extra 1,000 bursaries worth #163;1,500 will be on offer to people training to teach basic English and maths in the sector.
While the support is better than nothing, it is clear that experts were hoping for much more. James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, points out that the bursaries will cost the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about #163;11.5 million, just #163;1 million more than the existing fee grants they will replace. "They are trumpeting this as great news when it's just a redistribution of the insufficient money currently available," he said.
The current support scheme provides about #163;400 per student. While recipients of the new bursaries will receive more, far fewer trainees will benefit. "They will say it's targeted, but a lot of trainees will lose out," Mr Noble Rogers added.
About 20,000 trainee FE teachers are taken on each year and almost half of them will receive no financial support from the new scheme. At the same time, tuition fees for FE teacher training will rise to an average of #163;6,000-8,000 from September.
The FE workforce is typically made up of older recruits, often people who are taking a pay cut to embark on a second career. Many have families and Mr Noble Rogers fears that their aversion to debt could cause major recruitment issues for colleges. "This will have a serious impact on teacher supply for the sector," he added.
Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but insisted that there was still "more to be done". "We remain concerned about the tuition fee increases and hope that this announcement relieves, to some extent, concerns from higher education institutions about the financial viability of their FE ITT provision," she said.
"We further believe that a bursary system similar to that available for trainee schoolteachers should remain the goal, and that there should be financial support for trainee teachers undertaking awarding body routes to teaching qualifications. There is clearly still more to be done, and the IfL will continue to make the case for equitable access routes into teaching and training in our sector," she added.
Mr Hayes, however, insists that the bursaries amount to a substantial investment in the future of the profession. "It is a powerful demonstration of the government's wholehearted commitment to the FE and skills sector that, despite the current financial pressures and in challenging times, we are looking to secure the talents and skills of potential FE teachers," he said.
"Recruiting the best talent is central to making the sector as good as it can be. Further education is at the heart of economic revival; at the core of social renewal."
20,000 - Number of people who train as FE teachers each year.
#163;6,000 to #163;8,000 - Average annual tuition fees for a full-time FE teacher training course from 201213.
#163;400 - Value of current bursaries.
#163;1,000 - Value of most bursaries from 201213.
#163;23,000 to #163;27,000 - Starting salary for FE lecturers.