Principals have hit back angrily at criticisms from the chief inspector of colleges over excessive reliance on part-time staff.
In his annual report published last week, Dr Terry Melia warned that increasing use of part-timers to cut costs was not always in the best interests of students. He acknowledged part-timers brought up-to-date skills from industry to the classroom, but claimed they rarely played a role in curriculum planning and other development, thus putting standards at risk.
Principals dismissed the chief inspector's comments, claiming pressure to raise student numbers while slashing costs had left them with no choice but to use part-time staff.
Dr Melia has told college chiefs his criticisms were not a veiled reference to the increasing use of lecturing agencies by colleges seeking to reduce even further the cost of part-time staff.
However, his remarks in his report, Quality and Standards in Further Education in England, have prompted moves by the Association of Colleges (AOC)to establish a code of practice for agencies to ensure staff on their books are kept up to date on college and student activities.
The association plans to work with agencies to set down guidelines on induction and training programmes for lecturers starting work in a new college. The code would then be put to the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) for endorsement.
Though the plan is still in its early stages, the AOC's chief executive, Roger Ward, suggested agencies, rather than colleges, would be expected to pick up the bill for the training.
Principals say Dr Melia's report underestimates the value of part-time staff. Vince Hall, principal of Dewsbury College, West Yorkshire, said part-timers in subjects such as performing arts were able to provide vital up-to-date skills training because they were still also working within their industry.
Dr Melia's vision was closer to a university model, where most staff worked full-time and a far narrower curriculum programme was on offer, he said. Mr Hall added: "If Terry Melia feels that is the way forward, he should be arguing for a change in the funding to allow colleges to pay for it."
Dave Gibson, principal of City College, Manchester, denied part-timers were less professional than full-timers. Standards were more likely to be threatened by cuts in teaching hours forced on colleges by funding reductions, he said.
The AOC took issue with Dr Melia's interpretation of college staffing trends. It suggested colleges were increasingly opting for a smaller number of part-time staff working more hours.
Mr Ward said: "In those cases, part-timers are being given substantially more role in the college. The more they teach, the more they tend to become involved in curriculum develoment areas."
Education Lecturing Services, the largest of the supply agencies with 30,000 lecturers on its books and serving nearly one-third of colleges, also pointed to a shift in favour of fewer part-timers teaching more hours.
Its chief executive, Geoff Lennox, said the agency already provided some induction for lecturers new to FE. Such training should be an obligatory minimum for lecturing agencies, he said.
However, NATFHE, the lecturers' union, claims part-timers working via agencies become detached from developments in the colleges they work in and miss out on training opportunities.