The Department for Education has today published a research report exploring quality of teaching and leadership in FE.

‘Teaching, leadership and governance in further education’ examines whether the sector can cope with the reforms it is currently undergoing.

Professor David Greatbatch from Durham University and Dr Sue Tate from the University of the West of England conducted the research, which covered the whole sector albeit with a specific focus on colleges.

FE Week has the five main findings.

1. Teaching and quality of English and maths is “weak”

Evidence gathered by the authors shows that English and maths provision “remains an area of weakness in FE” due to a shortage of specialist teachers, and a lack of expertise among vocational teachers.

It says there is some evidence to suggest that FE learners benefit from “integrated approaches to teaching English and maths that contextualise learning within vocational areas”.


2. A majority of teachers do not do any continuing professional development

Analysis of FE workforce data from 2015/2016 showed that, on average, teachers spend 15 hours on CPD per year, although over 60 per cent of them reported spending no time on it at all on CPD.

“Senior leaders in FE often have an insufficient focus on teaching and learning and this can lead to a lack of CPD to enable FE teachers to improve,” the report says.

“CPD opportunities in FE are few and access is made difficult by lack of funding, the sessional nature of the work, and there being less of a tradition of inter-institutional collaborative networks to share good practice than there is in schools.”


3. There are significant issues with recruiting FE leaders with the necessary skillset

Principals and senior leaders who are recruited from the FE sector do not necessarily have the expertise to lead a large organisation, while those who are recruited from outside often do not understand curriculum issues, the report states.

Leadership models in large FE institutions are “moving away” from a focus on individual leaders to teams, with a balance between education and non-educational expertise.


4. The role of chair is “complex”

The relationships between FE principals and chairs of governors are “complex and nuanced”, and involve several “often conflicting” sub-roles, including “adviser”, “sounding board”, “conduit of information” to and from the governing board and “performance manager”.

Some chairs do not regard “detailed educational knowledge” as a priority in their requisite skillset, and this may result in a “relatively high level of dependency on FE college principals for knowledge about educational matters and thereby reduce the level of scrutiny by the chair”.

It adds that governors tend to be “proficient when scrutinising financial matters, but less confident about challenging the quality of teaching and learning”.


5. Teacher supply is a BIG problem

Managers believe that reforms of the FE sector will have a significant impact on the recruitment of teaching because they are “reshaping skills that are required”.

The report says there is likely to be a greater need to recruit in subject specialisms (English and maths, followed by science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects).

It explains that recruiting English and maths teachers is “particularly difficult” because pay in the FE sector “does not compete with schools”.

“Pay was also identified as a barrier to the recruitment of people from industry to teach the proposed technical qualification routes identified in the government’s Post-16 Skills Plan,” the report says.

“It was noted that a pipeline of training to move potential leaders into senior positions has been lacking, although the FE sector is beginning to tackle this issue.”