FE needs an independent pay panel, says report

An independent panel for FE pay should be formed to help fix the disparity between technical lecturer salaries and what they can earn in the field, according to a new report.

The Edge Foundation says that ingrained funding challenges have left college principals “strapped, unable to recruit the staff they need”, particularly from industries like manufacturing and digital where “they simply cannot match pay in the sector”.

Its report, Our Plan for FE, published today has called for the launch of an independent panel to establish “transparency, fairness and impartiality” when it comes to lecturer wages.

Olly Newton, Edge’s executive director, told FE Week the “outline idea” would be to “bring together a range of external perspectives and expertise to look at the level of FE pay and make recommendations to government and the sector”.

“They would need to take into account the pay and conditions in the wider sectors from which FE staff would be drawn,” he added.

“We think a degree of independent analysis in this space could be very valuable to all parties”, but further details would need to be worked up in consultation with the sector.

While there appears to be little research in the way of comparing lecturer salaries with wages in the field, Edge’s report said that recruitment of “high quality” lecturers and leaders is made “challenging by direct competition from schools, higher education institutions and businesses, all of which typically offer more attractive rates of pay for comparable roles”.

The Department for Education’s first ever and latest college staff survey, published in 2018, showed that “competition from higher salaries in industry” was the most common recruitment challenge facing principals.

Areas such as engineering and manufacturing, construction, maths and digital/IT were found to be the most difficult to lure workers from industry into the classroom.

The survey also showed that 42 per cent of lecturers and 33 per cent of leaders indicated they were likely to leave the sector over the next 12 months.

The 2019 Augur Review highlighted staff recruitment as a significant issue for FE, and found an average national vacancy rate of 3 per cent in colleges, with higher levels of 5 per cent in engineering and manufacturing; construction; and legal, finance and accounting, compared to 1.1 per cent in secondary schools.

Analysis of the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) staff individualised record (SIR) data from England for 2017-2018, published in Edge’s report, shows that lecturers make up 50 per cent of the average total workforce of a college and their average pay is £31,600 compared to an average of £37,400 for school teachers.

It adds that reduced funding “translates directly into staff numbers and salaries, with about 68 per cent of all college spending on staff costs, resulting in a recruitment and retention crisis across colleges”.

The ETF collates data for the FE sector including wages but would not comment as it doesn’t compare them to other sectors.

Edge explained that rather than addressing the funding and pay issue, the government’s policy response to FE staffing has been to revoke regulations relating to lecturers’ qualifications.

Since 2012/13, there have been no prescribed levels of educational or professional status required to teach in FE.

While the reform hoped to increase recruitment of industry professionals with relevant teaching skills but without specific qualifications, the charity said in actuality, the result is a “lack of clarity over what skills lecturers should have and how these might be demonstrated”.

Edge’s report concludes that principals have been “trapped, by the wider system, in a position where they are unable to pay anything near what an individual would earn in many growth industries”.

Neil Bates, chair of the Edge Foundation, said: “We need a clear and ambitious workforce strategy to attract a new and inspiring generation of technical lecturers and offer the continuing development and connection to industry they need to remain at the forefront of their fields.”