Careers - Go further afield

15th January 2010 at 00:00
If you are mid-career but don't aspire to headship, or just want to work with older students, a move to FE could do you good

Irregular hours, shorter holidays, less money - it's hard to see why secondary school teachers would want to switch to further education. But plenty make the move, and few regret it. So what is the appeal?

"I was at a stage of my career where it just seemed right," says English lecturer Kathryn Thompson, who moved to City of Wolverhampton College in 2003 after 20 years in secondary.

"Teaching in school requires more energy and I think it suits younger people best. I had got to the point where I was starting to feel a generation gap, especially teaching key stage 3, so the chance to work with older students and adults really appealed."

For teachers who are mid-career, but who don't necessarily aspire to leadership, FE can be a welcome change of direction.

"I do lots of A-level teaching, which is great," says Ms Thompson. "But I have also been able to diversify. For example, I have been involved in teaching literacy skills to higher education students."

FE teachers often say they find students are more motivated and better behaved than in secondary schools - though that's not always the case. They also say that while the hours may be a little longer, there is a more relaxed pace, and greater variety than you find in the average school day.

"Sometimes you can start at 9am and go right through to adult classes at 9pm," says Dave Pickersgill, a science lecturer at Sheffield College. "Other days, you might finish at lunchtime."

Mr Pickersgill is working on a project developing the use of mobile technologies in different subjects right across the college. "It's probably not the kind of opportunity I would have had in secondary," he says. "FE colleges are big places with hundreds of staff, and that allows them the flexibility to run this kind of project."

The only thing Mr Pickersgill says he doesn't enjoy about working in FE is the fact that lecturers are paid about 6 per cent less than secondary teachers, according to the University and College Union.

"When I made the switch the pay was comparable," he says. "But if I was faced with the same decision now I might think twice." College lecturers also tend to get less holiday than school teachers - though with FE institutions free to draw up their own contracts, pay and conditions vary widely. In some colleges a full-time contract will be nearly 900 teaching hours a year, while in others it may be only 700.

Applying for jobs is straightforward. If you have QTS, you are qualified to teach in the FE sector. And with half the FE workforce aged between 45 and 64, experts predict a recruitment shortage in the next few years, especially in maths and science.

"We welcome applications from secondary teachers," says Anna Openshaw, director of human resources at the College of North West London.

"In FE there is often a strong vocational slant and we are looking for teachers who will thrive in an adult-focused environment and encourage independent learning."

NEED TO KNOW

- Contracts vary widely. Pay attention to small print.

- FE offers excellent opportunities for part-time work.

- Some FE posts are strongly vocational, others have a more academic focus.

- FE lecturers belong to the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

- Holiday entitlement is usually 60 days.

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