Making learners who don’t achieve at least grade C in their English and math GCSEs is a requirement not only of them but also the numeracy and literacy teaching skills of their post-16 tutors explains Andrew Harden.
Many of our best vocational teachers have moved into colleges from the workplace where they have built up years of expertise in their fields.
With highly developed skills in businesses ranging from construction and car mechanics to hairdressing and health and social care, they have been ideally placed to train new generations.
Since August of last year, there has been a requirement for 16 to 19-year-olds who do not hold English and maths at GCSE A*-C to continue to study these subjects. It has been recognised that a key way to support this is for vocational teachers to embed English and maths into their teaching.
This is not a new idea — a study done a decade ago by the Institute for Education found that successful embedding of literacy, language and numeracy for learners on health and social care, hair and beauty therapy, construction, business and engineering courses, helped more to succeed in achieving their literacy, language and numeracy goals and their vocational objectives.
But the reality, as highlighted recently by Marina Gaze, Ofsted’s deputy director for skills, is that not all our vocational tutors have the confidence and ability in their own English and maths to fulfil this new requirement. This is not a failing on their part — their skill sets were the basis of their employment and now the goalposts have been shifted.
It is imperative that they are comprehensively supported to improve their English and maths, but colleges should approach this carefully.
It has to be accepted that vocational tutors can’t become English and maths experts overnight and that the key to success is support
The starting point is to invite all vocational tutors to attend Functional Skills development sessions. And the key to good attendance is the provision of genuine staff development time. All too often, we hear staff development is undertaken solely during lunch hours or at the end of the day.
One good example already up and running comes from The Education and Training Foundation, which runs one-day workshops teaching maths up to level two. The workshops, currently taking place across the country, aim to develop personal maths skills and improving teaching techniques and confidence.
Alternatively, colleges can use their own tutors to run courses. This allows English and maths teachers to see more of what their vocational colleagues do and help them explore the best ways to work literacy and numeracy into their course content.
Again, this can be a time-consuming process, but its success rests upon both sets of staff being given adequate time to do it. Furthermore, where vocational tutors really lack confidence, they should be offered the opportunity to take Functional Skills or GCSE courses themselves.
However, this new drive for success in English and maths will ratchet up pressure on our vocational tutors in other ways. We have heard reports that some colleges plan to remove the three hours a-week required for each English or maths GCSE course out of a student’s vocational course. This means that some students will have six hours less a week to focus on their vocational course.
The new requirements on vocational tutors will also mean that marking is going to become significantly more complex as they will be required to take into account spelling and grammar in addition to assessing subject knowledge. Anecdotally, we have heard reports of tutors now spending twice as long on marking. Their proportions of contact time and administrative time should be adjusted in light of this.
The underlying theme is support for the FE sector. The government is very good when it comes to warm words about colleges, but plans announced last month to slash as much as 24 per cent from adult learning budgets tell a different story.
Without doubt, the coming year will be an intense time for vocational tutors. It has to be accepted that they can’t become English and maths experts overnight and that the key to success is support. That means colleges must be given the capacity to support their staff through changes, to provide genuine staff development and to retain and attract experienced vocational skills teachers.