I was made redundant a few years ago and became ill. I want to return to teaching, maybe in FE or basic skills tutoring, but how can I update and upskill?

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

This is becoming a common problem in teaching. After a time out you find the world of education has moved on, through another 50 initiatives, and you need to get up to speed quickly if you want to return. It is not easy, especially if you have been ill.

For information about courses for new or experienced teachers, look at the Teacher Training Agency's website (www.tta.gov.uk). However, if you want to branch out, you will have to penetrate a torrent of acronyms. Each organisation has its own procedures, its own terms and its own history.

Prepare to enter the thickest and deepest alphabet soup in the world.

People have drowned in it and never been seen again.

Teaching basic skills is thoroughly worthwhile, as you will be supporting people who desperately need help in an increasingly literate society.

Forget talk about interactive technology making life simpler. Getting the most out of it still requires a good standard of literacy and mastery of text. The Basic Skills Agency has useful information on its own website (www.basic-skills.co.uk).

Not only is there a plethora of acronyms, but they change and proliferate, so it is much worse than weeding your garden. These triffids persist for ever. On your travels you will no doubt encounter Basil (Basic Skills for Inclusive Learning). Says it all. Enter the Fento (Further Education and National Training) website and you will be told it is a "legacy website".

(You what? How much money was I left then?) You have to move on to what is no doubt version 99c, Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) at www.lifelonglearninguk.org.

Don't give up. Though the post-16 jungle is not for the fainthearted, the work itself is most important, so the very best of LLUK with it.

You say

Don't let poor prospects put you off

Teaching basic skills is indeed a noble calling. You get to target your teaching skills at the area of greatest need and the job satisfaction pay-off is huge. But just because it's "basic" doesn't mean it's easy.

Quite the opposite: this is a very highly skilled job that seldom gets commensurate recognition - or rewards.

So, in addition to picking up the relevant qualifications, you'll have to develop an extra layer of protective skin, as, almost regardless of the institution you work for, you'll be on the lowest hourly rate, in the worst classrooms and - particularly as a part-timer - have virtually zero hope of career progression.

But, as long as you go into this area of teaching with your eyes open, it can be a great way of earning a (modest!) living.

G Harrison, Crowborough

Get in a college that will train you up

There's potentially loads of job satisfaction in the basic skills area, and it's certainly a flavour of the month with policy-makers.

But, as usual, there is a downside. FE can be a bit of a ghetto in terms of careers or recognition. Colleges don't always look after their part-timers particularly well. It's too often a case of "easy come, easy go". Perhaps the best advice is not to expect too much.

You don't say what your present qualifications are, but FE is getting more and more demanding in terms of the qualifications it expects of its staff, including part-timers. The good news is that the colleges will often train you themselves.

So, aim to get involved with a college that runs teaching qualifications for its own and other staff. This will not only arm you with new skills and refresh your rusty ones, but will also give you brilliant networking opportunities. Colleges are always on the lookout for good teachers. Doors will begin to open for you, if you have the talent and can demonstrate it.

Sue Cheal, Worthing

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