Scaling the wall of equality
Imagine it is your first day in a new job. With 15 years' experience, you know your stuff. But when you arrive to start work, you find yourself being told that you will be supervised by someone nearly half your age and with only a fraction of your experience.
That, says the Institute for Learning (IfL), is what happens to some of the further education lecturers who try to switch to teaching in schools: regulations mean their qualifications are not accepted. It is a barrier the institute wants to consign to history.
Lack of equivalence between qualifications in FE and schools has been a longstanding source of resentment and confusion for teachers who take the FE postgraduate certificate in education and wonder why it is not deemed worthy in schools.
IfL's development of Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status for FE staff only highlighted the gap with schools' Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
"We think there is a real coalition of interests coming together - the time is right," says Toni Fazaeli, IfL's chief executive. "Now FE has its professional qualification, the building blocks for their mutual recognition are there in a way that hasn't happened before."
But if the heavily guarded border between schools and FE is unfair to college lecturers, how can we create a "common market" for teachers, and what difference will it make for those who work in colleges?
IfL has responded to a Department for Children, Schools and Families consultation on reforming the rules around teacher qualifications by calling for the two types of qualification to be considered on a par.
It wants A-level teachers in FE who have never taught in schools to transfer through a simple assessment of their experience. It also says that vocational teachers who may not have degrees should be considered to have equivalent expertise from their years in the classroom.
But the consultation indicates there are still hurdles to overcome with government. It does not mention colleges, and implies that experience in schools is all that matters, focusing on issues such as overseas qualifications rather than transfers between FE colleges and schools. A response to the consultation is expected in January.
But IfL has support in the schools sector. Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says he believes both sides would benefit from breaking down barriers, and called for freer movement of college leaders into school positions and vice versa.
"At a teacher level and a leader level, we are very keen that it should be possible for staff to move to and fro," he says. "We want people who are properly trained for the job that they're doing - and to the extent that there are differences, there needs to be extra training. But we don't think it's as different as the regulations seem to imply - they're a historical accident rather than a rational approach to the situation."
He agrees with IfL that it should be possible for staff to take a short module or have their experience accredited to make the move. The 14-19 curriculum and the introduction of Diplomas with vocational content mean schools will be more likely to want vocational teachers, and not just those who teach A-levels, he said.
Some offer their own vocational courses outside the Diploma. Schools even began offering courses in equipment-heavy subjects, such as construction, to children aged 14 and over after the housebuilder Lovell Partnerships offered sponsorship five years ago.
"For things like construction and engineering, they will still usually go to a college for part of the week," Mr Ward says. "But for a lot of other things, it will be possible for it to be done in school, as long as they have someone with the expertise - and they will be found in colleges."
Many FE staff also have greater experience of teaching younger students than in the past, since more than 80,000 under-16s are now learning in colleges. Ms Fazaeli suggests they may even be more effective than schoolteachers in some cases.
"We have teachers in FE who succeed brilliantly with young people between 14 and 16, where those children haven't thrived in schools," she says. "There's a lot of success and really effective teaching where children haven't done well for all sorts of reasons at school."
The Conservatives' latest proposal for technical schools looks set to increase FE's exposure to 14-19 education. The party has said it will allow FE colleges to take students from age 14 to allow development of technical schools within colleges.
In this case, FE teachers will work more with students aged 14-16. If they can do this in a college-based technical school, any barriers preventing them teaching in other technical schools would seem grossly unfair. Presumably, all technical schools will need the vocational expertise of FE staff.
It is not clear that opening up the borders between FE and schools for teachers would result in a mass migration. At present, the numbers transferring between the sectors are small. Only about 3,380 of the 200,000 or so FE lecturers registered with IfL also hold membership of the General Teaching Council for England, the schoolteachers' professional body.
But IfL says these are self-reported data that may miss some migrants to FE. This is more remarkable in that many of those will have taken pay cuts to move to a college. But FE has an attraction for teachers who prefer only taking classes with older students on higher-level courses.
Details of people transferring to schools from colleges is more scarce, whether as an "unqualified" role or whether they take time out to retrain. The University and College Union (UCU) said it knows anecdotally that lecturers do quit and retrain for schools.
But Ms Fazaeli said the demand for teachers to move between schools and colleges may remain unknown until there is a system that makes it easier. If the desire for a more vocational curriculum for younger students does increase, lecturers may be more in demand. And when labour is in demand, it usually means wages go up.
Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the UCU, says transfers between sectors would strengthen the case for equal pay.
"There has always been some movement from FE to schools because of the differential in pay," he says. "If this change was to go through, then no doubt that would increase."
He says starting salaries are often on a par, but that experienced schoolteachers can earn a higher maximum salary, especially with up to pound;12,000 in teaching and learning responsibility payments.
If the changes do come about, colleges may find it harder to retain their most experienced staff. And new opportunities for lecturers may also mean new problems for their managers.
HOW QUALIFIED ARE YOU?
Requirements for schools' Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)
GCSE in English, maths (and science for primary or key stage 2 and 3) at C grade or above.
A degree in a subject relevant to your teaching subject.
A PGCE or an undergraduate teaching degree.
A probationary year working under a mentor at a school.
Teachers can also gain their initial qualification in the classroom, under school-centred initial training, or work and gain teaching qualifications at the same time.
Requirements for colleges' Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS)
A level 5 initial teacher training qualification equivalent to the Diploma in Teaching in the lifelong learning sector.
Level 2, or GCSE equivalent, in literacy and numeracy qualifications.
Supporting testimony from a qualified teacher.
Evidence of specialist subject knowledge, knowledge of teaching and learning, self-evaluation, planning professional development and reflective practice.