AS the new term begins and further education teaching qualifications are made compulsory in England, the debate continues over the future shape of training for lecturers across Scotland.
For policy-makers here, the situation is clear-cut. A Scottish Executive spokesman stated: "Teaching in further education can be full-time, part-time, permanent, or temporary. Some specialists may be called on to offer the odd class within their own discipline but would not ordinarily be expected to gain a teaching qualification.
"For instance, the local vet may be called in to teach an evening class in pet care and the college would consider their professional qualifications and experience more than adequate to meet students' needs."
There are two ways of acquiring teaching qualifications in FE. The first is by taking units of initial training and continuing professional development. These are delivered locally by "approved providers", private organisations as well as FE colleges. At present 19 colleges (some in consortia) have been endorsed. If another eight have applications accepted, more than 50 per cent of Scottish FE colleges will be signed up.
The second route is the award of the full teaching qualification in FE (TQFE) offered by three higher education institutions - Strathclyde (the Scottish School of FE) and Stirling universities and Northern College. They are required to recognise the units lecturers achieve in their college-based training as carrying credit.
The Executive sees no need for insisting on uniformity within the three institutions. A spokesman said: "We are not seeking to shoehorn this into a one size fits all qualification. It is for institutions to make the judgment on how much weight they wish to assign to previous learning or experience."
This view is supported by Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. "They are different courses and their differences reflect different providers. That is the same system as exists presently in initial teacher education."
But the GTC parts company with the Executive and continues to insist on the virtues of compulsory registration for lecturers. Mr MacIver says: "Such a step would bring about consistency in entry qualifications and quality in terms of teaching."
But he acknowledges that this is accepted neither by the Executive nor by the sector as a whole. The Executive comments: "The FE sector in Scotland has demonstrated a very welcome and high level of voluntary commitment to the professionalisation of its teaching staff. We should build on that. Introducing compulsion at this time would not be a positive step."
The voluntary principle is supported also by the Association of Scottish Colleges. Tom Kelly, its chief officer, believes that the best way of training lecturers is by continuing professional development and in-service on a voluntary basis.
"There is no intention and no need to go compulsory, although lecturers can, if they wish, become eligible to register with the GTC, working from foundation modules which can count as credits towards a full TQFE," Mr Kelly said.
Of the 13,329 teaching staff in colleges, 58 per cent have the TQFE and 32 per cent have another professional qualification, leaving only 10 per cent with no qualification at all. "Given that the majority of FE lecturers are part-time (8,031), this cannot be said to be a non-qualified workforce, particularly if you compare it with higher education," Mr Kelly observes pointedly.
By mid-August, only 1,085 were registered with the GTC - 8 per cent of the total.
The approach is endorsed by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, although it wants to see many more lecturers with a teaching qualification as opposed to a qualification in their own discipline. The council has set a target of 80 per cent of full-time permanent FE staff with a teaching qualification in FE by the end of this academic year, rising to 90 per cent by 2003.
A third qualifications route is being developed which will offer a common TQFE in addition to the individual degrees of the three higher education institutions.
Mike Osborne, professor of lifelong education at Stirling University, stresses the need for quality standards.
"The training of FE lecturers should broadly be the equivalent of that of schoolteachers in terms of level," Professor Osborne says, "and this requires an equivalent period of study and structured practice. We have designed a programme which is embedded in a curriculum that provides both relevant educational theory and work-related practice.
"Even more flexible variants on our model may be necessary to meet, in particular, the requirements of part-time FE staff, and we will work with others to develop further the existing provision."