Principals believe official estimates of numbers of qualified lecturers are unduly pessimistic. Sue Jones reports
"Either you're a professional or you're not," says Peter Ashley, course director for post-compulsory education and training qualifications at Bromley College.
His belief that all lecturers should have a teaching qualification is widely shared. For many colleges, it has become part of their professional ethos that institutions dedicated to educating, training and developing students should do the same for their staff.
Like Bromley College, Lincoln College has seen a surge in the take-up of teaching courses, though not all of these will be for college lecturers - the qualifications are widely used in other services, such as health and the police.
Now that all such courses have to be at level 4 (degree), the FE National Training Organisation standards have had to be adjusted. For example, the familiar City and Guilds 730 courses have been replaced by the new 7407.
The new standards can be daunting for lecturers who are well-qualified in their particular vocational area, but have little experience of academic study at this level. Some need more mentoring support than they would have done on the old courses, not for their classroom practice, but to get them up to speed on their written assignments.
"It's more academically rigorous and demanding," says Cathy Hairsine, curriculum, mentoring and best practice manager at Lincoln College, but she thinks that this eventually makes it easier to continue on to the top level (stage 3), or the postgraduate certificate in education.
"As long as we can develop level 4 at the first stage, by stage 2 it is a valuable programme, it is made for a more seamless progression," she said.
There is also more emphasis on reflective practice, which she thinks makes it particularly appropriate for those with teaching experience.
Moreover, there is an increasing demand to take the qualification using distance learning, in which the bulk of the academic work can be undertaken through online materials.
Peter Ashley reports that it is also popular with people in industry who are thinking of making the switch to working in FE, but do not want their boss to know.
Publishers such as Thosewhocan provide packages of online lesson plans, interactive materials, case studies, chat rooms and a database of student activity.
Cathy Hairsine has found it helpful for lecturers who have plenty of teaching experience but could feel threatened by having to achieve a qualification later in their career.
"They're our most reluctant group, but the flexi-route has worked really well. We've not put them on such a tight timescale (to complete the course).
"We chose to acknowledge their concerns. We were very up-front about that, and having done the course, they've said they've seen the value of it."