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Waiting lists to learn

Colleges are turning adult students away or putting them on waiting lists as they struggle to recruit staff to meet skills targets, new research reveals.

Many more staff are needed with qualifications to teach literacy, numeracy and English for speakers of other languages (Esol) if 1.5 million adults are to achieve a GCSE-equivalent qualification by 2007, as the Government expects.

A survey carried out by 'The TES' and Niace, the adult education body, for Adult Learners' Week, has revealed the extent of theshortages. Despite more cash for teacher training, opportunities across the country are patchy. One reason is the lack of staff with degree-level qualifications (level 4) able to supervise programmes.

The survey covered 100 colleges and 60 large training providers. While some met demand, most faced difficulties.

The survey showed:

* 52 per cent of institutions have had to tailor or limit programmes to fit the skills and qualifications of available staff;

* 31 per cent had to cancel or postpone classes because of lack of staff; and

* 27 per cent have a waiting list of learners.

Despite this, Whitehall insists that things are heading the right way.

Barry Brookes, head of the Skills for Life strategy unit at the Department for Education and Skills, said: "The LSC (Learning and Skills Council) is making massive inroads, but we've had a very low starting base. In 2001 there was no specific qualification for teachers of literacy ornumeracy, so we're making fantastic progress, but there's a way to go." Last year the LSC spent pound;17 million on teacher training.

One fifth of Esol and literacy teachers have no teaching qualification, according to the survey, and one-third of numeracy teachers are unqualified. Three-quarters of colleges say they have had difficulties in recruiting staff at Level 4. Nearly half had problems at Level 2 (GCSE) and two-thirds at Level 3 (A-level).

Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, says colleges should look to train and promote staff in-house. "Colleges have no choice but to invest in this area, but they need support. There's a shortage of people out there, so growing your own is very important."

The survey shows that 13 per cent of Esol staff, 24 per cent for literacy and 34 per cent for numeracy are training for a teaching qualification.

While many respondents want training, courses are not always available.

Some complain that provision is inflexible, too far away, or full up.

Colleges and providers are also concerned about the costs and difficulties of finding suitable cover if staff have time off for training, while times are not always suitable for part-time and hourly paid staff, who have other commitments.

Training is more likely to go to full-time staff, but they make up only a quarter of Basic Skills teachers. Three-quarters of the colleges offer full-time staff time off for training, but just under a half and a quarter offered the same facility to fractional and hourly paid staff respectively.

Fewer still offer payment for attendance at training.

"Institutions invest in full-time rather than hourly paid staff, but for many learners it's the hourly paid staff who are their access to learning," says Alan Tuckett. But colleges are being creative, he believes.

Three-quarters use staff training, half have used the LSC's Basic Skills Quality Initiative and more than a third have used the LSC's support funding to combat shortages.

Balancing teaching and training commitments is a problem, says Barry Brookes. "It's a Catch 22," he said. "If your best practitioners become trainers then you're not putting your best teachers in the front lineIYou need succession planning to create real career opportunities."

He believes the status of basic skills is improving and becoming more central to institutions' work. "We're now seeing more and more senior and middle managers coming through from basic skills. The standing of basic skills is being raised - we're seeing a root and branch change."

Alan Tuckett believes that the whole basic skills strategy depends on having enough staff at Level 4 and a higher proportion of full time to hourly paid staff.

"We'll know that the Skills for Life agenda is really succeeding when every major provider has a stable professional staff base, and when someone coming into the work can see a proper career structure in front of them.

Valuing teachers and training teachers has an impact on the opportunities learners get," he said.

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