Principals believe official estimates of numbers of qualified lecturers are unduly pessimistic. Sue Jones reports
While colleges succeed in widening participation in education and training among the public, they may not be reaching their own staff.
They provide courses from basic skills to degree level, train people for the workplace and reach out to some of the most excluded members of society, but perhaps only half of lecturers have a teaching qualification.
The Government wants all lecturers - other than new entrants - to be qualified to teach by 2010. Since September 2001, all new entrants must qualify within two years if they are employed full-time and four years if part-time.
The Government's document Success For All has set a target of 90 per cent of full-time and 60 per cent of part-time staff to have a teaching qualification by 20056.
Jane Williams, director of teaching and learning at the Standards Unit at the Department for Education and Skills, thinks that about half of the present staff is qualified.
This figure (60 per cent of full time, 43 per cent of part-time staff) is an estimate based on the colleges' staff records returned annually to the Learning and Skills Council. But this data is incomplete, and no-one knows the true figure.
Many principals think that the DfES view is unduly pessimistic. The Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum says that more than 90 per cent of staff in member colleges are already qualified.
Principals in general FE colleges believe they have already overtaken the 20056 target, and some colleges are close to having a fully-qualified workforce.
"The overall position has been distorted quite negatively," says Joanna Tait, principal of Bishop Auckland College.
The Standards Unit has commissioned research and early findings should be in by March 2004. The LSC is improving staff records to achieve more accurate returns.
The upgraded information will feed into the Standards Unit's future strategies. Jane Williams, says: "Over the next 12 months we'll be looking coherently at all workforce issues for the first time across the sector.
"We'll be focusing not only on teacher and trainer qualifications, but also the new Leadership College, and looking at issues currently affecting recruitment, retention and rewards," she added. "There's a lot to be done in teacher and trainer qualifications, but we're currently investigating."
The Office for Standards in Education is conducting a national survey of teacher training, based on eight higher education institutions which work with 22 colleges. Inspectors are visiting each institution each term for a year. Their findings are to be published this autumn.
By 2004, the new lifelong learning sector skills council should be running.
"It will be the body that has the national leadership role in developing the lifelong learning workforce," says Jane Williams. "Employers need to really run with this and shape the development."
Ms Williams wants to see a career and professional development framework that makes it easier for staff to move across the sector. "People will move between work-based learning, colleges and adult and community. We want a ladder of professional qualifications, perhaps a professional body that would set the standards for continuing professional development."
Meanwhile, lecturers are being trained to teach under standards laid down by the Further Education National Training Organisation in 1999. The two usual routes are the postgraduate certificate in education and a work-based route, such as City and Guilds courses.
Lecturers starting their careers on part-time, temporary contracts can follow the in-service route, taking the stage 1 and stage 2 qualifications.
Those on permanent contracts are required to progress to stage 3 (the highest level achievable), or take a postgraduate course. This can be a one-year, full-time, pre-service course, or can be taken part-time, in-service over two years.
Though there is widespread support in the FE sector for a fully-qualified workforce in principle, there are some concerns about the practice.
Lecturers' union Natfhe, is concerned about the amount of time lecturers have for their own training. Full-time staff often get one or two hours a week, but where part-time staff are paid only for the hours they teach, they will be doing all their training in their own time.
There is also inequity in the funding. While fees for the PGCE are paid by the local authority, under initial teacher training regulations, work-based training has to be paid for out of college funds. The Standards Fund money that supported this is being absorbed into core funding, and colleges will be set staff training targets in their three-year development plans agreed with their local LSC.
The LSC's Success For All project manager, Rob Wye, expects that initial teacher training will need to take account of current developments, such as the growing demand for e-learning. And as colleges become more deeply involved in the Government's 14-19 programme, they may need training in dealing with the 14-16 age group, he said.
But if some teachers in colleges resist the Government's pressure to get qualified, it may be the very group the Government is exhorting colleges to be more responsive to. Plumbers, solicitors and other practitioners with up-to-date knowledge of commerce and industry often teach a class for two or three hours a week, but Richard Atkins, principal of Exeter College, is concerned that they might be frightened away if they have to get a teaching qualification. The credibility and expertise arising from their up-to-date experience would be lost to the sector.
"We don't want this to be a disincentive," said Ivor Jones, employment director at the Association of Colleges. "That's one thing we can't risk as a sector because of the Government's workforce strategy."