When students at Wolverhampton University are asked why they are taking a PGCE in further education their answer is clear: to give themselves a passport towards the teaching job they really want.
During the two days they spend each week on teaching practice in local colleges, many work beside lecturers with no formal teaching qualifications. Yet the students are well aware that a PGCE or similar qualification is rapidly becoming the norm for FE staff.
"I wanted to become a lecturer and saw this as a way of getting through the door of a college," said Lara Whistance.
"Colleges in this area expect you to have come here before you apply for a job."
Lara has a degree in languages but, after gaining a higher diploma in administration, wants to teach office practice.
Sandra Parsons, who is taking a Certificate in Education, said the principal at the college where she is doing her practice insists that all newly appointed lecturers have a recognised teaching qualification. Wolverhampton is one of only four English higher education institutions offering pre-service training for FE lecturers.
Its further, adult and higher education (FAHE) scheme, which has been running since 1989, is an umbrella programme covering a range of undergraduate and postgraduate awards for prospective and current teachers.
It has about 120 students taking the one-year, full-time programme before applying for their first teaching post, as well as more than 300 lecturers, who are already employed in colleges, enrolled on a two-year, day-release programme, leading to the same series of awards.
"By gaining a qualification, students add to their personal development and become more saleable," said admissions tutor David Floyd. "It also adds to the credibility of the college where they work."
Vanessa Dye, who co-ordinates the full-time FAHE programme, acknowledges prospective FE teachers are already experts in their vocational field. "We expect them to come here with their knowledge base in place," she said. "We don't tell them how to teach their particular subject but how to apply their knowledge in the classroom."
By splitting their week between college and the university classroom, full-time students can instantly apply the theory they learn as well as offering practical assistance to more experienced lecturers.
Later this term, four PGCE candidates who devised a "shopping" game aimed at FE students with learning difficulties are due to take the new game into the colleges where they are on teaching practice. The game combines life skills such as the use of money with knowledge of food products.
Carol Noble, who is taking special needs as an optional module as part of her PGCE, said: "I have had a good response to the fact that I'm doing this course, and I am giving students with learning difficulties the respect they deserve."
To gain an award, students must complete a portfolio of evidence showing how they have achieved certain competencies and complete a series of assignments. They are also assessed in the classroom.
Students taking the PGCE and other courses at Wolverhampton regret they cannot gain qualified teacher status. Yet the FAHE programme is seen as an important way of learning about developments in FE, such as the need to provide individual counselling for students, as well as different modes of teaching, including the increasing popularity of open learning.
While full-time students are based at the university's Walsall campus, most part-timers attend lectures at one of 10 FE colleges in the West Midlands that offer the FAHE scheme under franchising agreements.
Many FE staff on the day-release scheme are part-time lecturers who want to apply for full-time posts.
"It helps to give them job security and teaches them things they can take back and use in college," said Ann-Marie Bathmaker, co-ordinator for the day-release FAHE programme.
Teaching staff at Wolverhampton are cautiously optimistic about a future compulsory training scheme for FE teachers but stress that it must cover educational theory and knowledge and understanding as well as practical work.
"Teachers must be able to respond critically to the changes that are taking place in FE," said Ms Bathmaker.