Short on the basics

4th November 2005 at 00:00
I am not surprised by recent reports that basic skills teaching is not up to scratch in FE, and that there is a crisis in recruiting specialists. In its drive to improve standards, the Government has its head in the sand on this issue. The Skills for Life strategy looks good on paper, but the reality may be that in practice it is unachievable. I am extremely angry that more has not been done - both by the Government and colleges - to bring FE to a state of readiness on this question.

There is a lack of joined-up thinking here that goes back many years. The "realignment of FE" has been gradual but also fairly predictable. It was surely obvious to many on April 1, 1993 (for some the day FE got a second wind, for others the end of a "golden era") that everything would change.

So is there really any excuse for FE not to be ready?

Incorporation brought colleges together via mergers; provision was expanded; local industry and community became key to development; new funding rules brought in accountability and kept people on their toes. But all this bold change is in stark contrast to the timidity with which colleges approached the issue of unqualified staff and "retraining".

If recent reports are to be believed, FE is still well short of skilled practitioners in key areas. The issue of staff shortages is clearly a vital factor, and one that the Government must address if it really wants this strategy to be anything other than a paper exercise.

Yet this does not solve the more pressing problem of under-skilled and unqualified staff in FE. Eight years ago, when I met the requirement of my PGCE by teaching for two months in a local college, my presence was not welcome. I don't know how many times I was told that "teachers are born, not made". If my experience is anything to go by, teachers have given colleges a hard time on the issue of retraining. In hindsight, it should have been top of the agenda in 1993, and written into new and generous contracts that recognised "experience" at the same time as requiring staff to keep in step with developments.

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