COLLEGES will have to conduct a huge staff skills audit after funding chiefs admitted their information systems were so unreliable they did not know the qualifications of nearly a third of all further education lecturers.
The lack of reliable data from the Further Education Funding Council, and a lack of cash among colleges for staff development, threatens to undermine Government plans to give the majority of lecturers trained teacher status within five years.
Baroness Blackstone, the further and higher education minister, will unveil the proposed standards - drawn up by the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO) - at a conference of more than 400 FE delegates in London on Monday.
The scale of the task facing FENTO is vividly illustrated by a report from the FEFC on professional development this week.
The council admits: "A reliable and comprehensive profile of teachers' professional qualifications has yet to be constructed. The FEFC's SIR (Staff Individualised Record) provides information on teaching qualifications, but the picture is far from complete."
The proportion of full-time staff with teaching qualifications at colleges inspected between 1993 and 1997 ranged from 76 per cent to 100 per cent. The highest proportion were in sixth-form colleges where, pre-incorporation, staff had to have qualified teacher status.
The most recent figures confirm that only 50 per cent of full-timers and 17 per cent of part-timers hold a PGCE or the old Certificate of Education.
Casualisation has increased the proportion of lecturers without qualified teacher status, and part-timers have increased by more than 15 per cent in two years.
The qualifications of 31,100 of the sector's 71,900 part-timers - and 3,300 of 43,400 full-timers - are unknown, the FEFC report shows. Moreover, BAs, BScs and BEds are lumped together, making calculation of those holding degrees with qualified teacher status impossible.
Data on specialist vocational and professional qualifications is "even less reliable" than that on teaching qualifications, and the SIR contains no information on college management. A survey of 3,000 college managers conducted by the Further Education Development Agency in 1997 - which showed only 25 per cent had completed management training - suggests another skills shortage that FENTO will need to address.
The report acknowledges that staff development suffers from variable and sometimes insufficient funding - estimated at between 0.15 and 2 per cent of their income.
At the Association of Colleges' annual conference in November, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, pledged more cash for professional development through the new Standards Fund. This was later set at pound;5 million, rising to pound;80m in 2000-01. But, as well as staff development, it must meet a wide range of tasks, including targeted intervention colleges with poor performance, post-inspection support, management training, dissemination of good practice and student improvement.
An AOC survey shows that half of all colleges pay professional development costs for individuals, the majority also set aside up to six training days a year. But with an average of 1.1 per cent of income (pound;33m) spent on training, there is concern that this will not meet ambitious FENTO targets.
Terry Melia, chairman of FENTO, said: "It is not always a question of more cash but of more effective use of money available."
The FEFC's chief inspector, Jim Donaldson, said: "If we look at the SIR it is not giving us the kind of information we would wish, given the level of expenditure."