It is disconcerting to read week after week, in the columns and letters pages of The TES, of the dire effects of the crisis in teacher recruitment. But however dire it may appear, it pales into insignificance compared to the crisis in further education.
If schoolteachers feel the burden of low pay, low status and poor conditions they ought to spare a thought for their colleagues in colleges. We have neither the luxury of national pay settlements nor a recognisable incremental scale.
We enjoy half the holidays of our school-based counterparts, 12-hour opening, a longer working-hours contract and a five-and-a-half-day week. In addition, annual cost-of-living pay rises are routinely frozen to enable underfunded corporations to balance the books and stretch shrinking resources to cope with ever-increasing student numbers.
In addition to being financially adrift, we also seem to be moving away philosophically. The current politically-inspired trend in schools, away from mixed-ability teaching, research-based learning and towards a more formalised whole-class approach is not mirrored in FE, where, it seems the only financially viable forms of learning are predominantly research-based and where apparently expensive teacher contact is kept to a minimum.
The philosophical debate on methodology, now taking place in schools, appears to be a non-starter in FE, and while the compulsory sector undergoes a period of revisionism, it seems unlikely that such ideas will gain momentum in post-compulsory education, where pseudo-market and funding-driven philosophies still dominate. Perhaps the Office for Standards in Education and the Further Education Funding Council inspectorates ought to get together to agree a common approach.
It's heartening, however, to hear the Confederation of British Industry's recent pleas to raise both the salaries and social profile of teachers, but let's hope that they mean all teachers, in all parts of the system. It often appears that FE, whose remit overlaps both the work of the schools and the new universities, exists in a twilight world, where the "great questions" facing education play no part. The current discussions on the level and direction of the teacher qualifications are a prime example - why are schoolteachers alone the focus of debate, when many FE staff are involved in the same work, and increasingly finding excluded pupils in their classes.
At the other end of the FE spectrum, if Dearing is serious about the development of Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, and the sector does have a critical role to play in delivering FE, why aren't many of the staff delivering them, paid salaries at least equivalent to their part-time students, never mind their school-based colleagues.
The new Education Secretary does, fortunately, seem to be recognising the contribution made by FE to the educational life of this country, commending its flexibility and the scope of its undertaking. I hope, along with the majority of staff in FE colleges, that unlike his predecessors, he doesn't just mean that it's cheap.
Broad View Spout Lane Light Oaks Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire