While education secretary Michael Gove announced generous bursaries of up to pound;20,000 to support the training of schoolteachers, lecturers' organisations warned this week that the last route to fully funded FE teacher training will be closed within two years. With even the meagre pound;400 grant for FE trainees due to end in March, fees of at least pound;6,000 could create a recruitment crisis in colleges and training providers.
Candidates for FE teaching are more risk-averse and likely to be put off by fees, according to the Institute for Learning (IfL), the statutory professional body for FE teachers. Its research shows that the average new FE teacher is 37, joining after picking up experience in industry. Many have mortgages and families, as well as previous student loans in some cases, and they are often expected to accept lower salaries as teachers in colleges and training providers than industry jobs would offer.
"We owe our international competitiveness, the influence of our innovation and the strength of our communities to the skills of our teachers and trainers, and we should be welcoming the most talented individuals into our sector with open arms," said IfL chief executive Toni Fazaeli. "It cannot be right that while teacher training in schools attracts generous bursaries of up to pound;20,000 for priority subjects, there is no such support for those wishing to teach or train in FE and skills, even if their professional expertise lies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics."
The bursaries for schoolteachers, which will be paid for out of the existing pound;500 million-a-year budget for teacher training, will offer candidates with first-class degrees pound;20,000 to teach shortage subjects such as maths, physics and chemistry, falling to pound;11,000 for those with 2:2 degrees. Other priority specialisms can command up to pound;9,000.
Meanwhile, FE teachers' bursaries, which currently stand at just pound;400 per candidate, are not due to continue beyond March of next year. Later, in September 2012, is the introduction of HE fees of at least pound;6,000 for candidates training at universities or university-accredited colleges. And, one year on, colleges accredited by awarding bodies will see their funding replaced by a fees and loans system, cutting off the last avenue for Government-funded training.
"The dramatic change in the accessibility of post-compulsory teacher training is unprecedented and poses significant risks to the sustainability of our high-quality teaching workforce," Ms Fazaeli said.
However, the proposals for schools also come with strings attached that would not necessarily be acceptable in FE, such as the requirement for at least a 2:2 degree, which in many vocational areas may not be appropriate.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been in discussions with lecturers' organisations and employers over the effects of fees for teacher training for about a year, according to Dan Taubman, UCU senior national official. But no solution has yet been adopted. "We've all expressed our horror and dismay. FE teachers are the people who impart the skills that the nation is supposed to need to get out of recession," Mr Taubman said.
A report by the Association of Colleges was commissioned by the Department. It recommended that the problem could be solved by adding FE teaching qualifications to the list of protected subjects that continue to receive HE funding - mostly those in science and technology. But the recommendation has not yet been acted on. Universities involved in teacher training said a bursary scheme could also solve the problem.
"The new fees regime could undo progress towards professionalisation and parity of esteem with schools, have an adverse impact on widening participation and damage the quality of students' education," said James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers. "The problem could easily be solved through bursaries or a continuation of direct funding for training courses."
The Department for Education said bursaries for FE teachers were a matter for BIS, although it mentioned the plans to allow the FE teaching qualification, Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills, to be accepted by schools as an example of its equal treatment of the sectors.
A BIS spokeswoman declined to comment on the Department's plans to fund teacher training in FE before it responds formally to its consultation on reform of the sector, which closed last month. "The Government shares the IfL's appreciation of the importance of a high-quality workforce for the FE sector," the spokeswoman said.
Cost of training in FE
pound;6k - Cost of initial teacher training from 2012
up to pound;20k - Bursaries for trainee school teachers
pound;400 - Bursaries for trainee FE lecturers, until March
Variations in salaries
pound;18.5k to pound;22.5k - Starting salary of FE lecturer before qualification
pound;23k to pound;27k - Starting salary of FE lecturer after qualification
pound;35k to pound;45k - Average salaries of mechanical engineers, ICT managers or civil engineers.