Government aspirations to bolster the FE workforce “will be nothing more than a pipedream” unless colleges are given funding to raise teacher pay, a sector leader has warned.

Anne Murdoch, senior advisor for college leadership at the Association of School and College Leaders and the former general
secretary of the Principals’ Professional Council, raised concerns after the much-anticipated Skills for Jobs white paper included nothing on increasing pay for staff.

Instead, it promised that ‘significant’ new investment in the workforce in 2021-22 would include the launch of an ‘ambitious’ recruitment campaign to attract ‘high-calibre teaching staff’ and a sweep of professional development measures.

All this comes as new data on the FE workforce released by the Department for Education last month showed teacher pay across the sector has remained stagnant over the past decade, having only increased from a median of £31,620 in 2010-11 to £33,750 in 2019-20.

The research also showed the retention rate has fallen, especially after the first few years of teaching, with just over half (51 per cent) of teachers who started in 2016 still teaching after three years, while 68 per cent who started in 2000 were still teaching after three years.

Additionally, the data revealed that more FE teachers are leaving the profession within two academic years.

While last month’s FE white paper failed to back up the commitment to strengthen the workforce with funding for pay, for the schools sector the Conservatives included a promise to increase starting salaries to £30,000 in their last election manifesto.

The current pay gap between school and college teachers sits at around £9,000.

Staff pay in FE is set by individual colleges, although the Association of Colleges does recommend a pay increase each year. Its recommendation over the past few years has been a one per cent rise, which has often sparked a backlash from the University and College Union.

But funding per student in colleges fell by 12 per cent in real terms between 2010–11 and 2019–20, which has had a knock-on impact on the pay colleges can offer.

Anne Murdoch

Murdoch described the “stagnation in pay” for teachers in FE as “scandalous”, adding that it is “hardly a surprise to find low levels of morale and a high percentage of staff leaving the profession as a direct result”.

The former Newbury College principal told FE Week that it was “difficult to see why” teachers would choose to work in FE when they could earn around £10,000 more working in schools. “Swift action is needed now to stop the yawning pay gap between school and FE teachers from widening even further,” she added.

“The minister’s aspirations for the future of the FE sector will be nothing more than a pipedream unless the government recognises the importance of the staff who work there and takes genuine steps to fund FE sufficiently so that college leaders can right the wrongs of the past decade on pay.”

She is the not the only sector leader to highlight the importance of pay in attracting professionals into the FE teaching profession.

During an FE Week webcast last week, Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes stressed the importance of getting funding through to colleges and providers “so they can pay the right amount to recruit and retain people, particularly those with skills in and experience in those sectors of the economy that are most important”.

Education and Training Foundation chief executive David Russell, whose organisation carries out analysis of the FE workforce and also runs several streams of professional development for the sector, concurred with Hughes during the event, saying an element of reward was “missing” from the white paper.

The government is pushing ahead with the efforts to improve recruitment and retention that it did mention in the white paper, however.

This week it launched a £3 million tender for delivery partners for the Taking Teaching Further programme.

The white paper also revealed investment in the FE workforce will rise to over £65 million between 2020 and 2022, with part of the extra money going towards a new Workforce Industry Exchange programme, which will develop networks between teachers and industry.

Furthermore, the existing professional development programme for T Levels will be expanded for at least a year beyond March 2021, and a new national online Apprenticeship Workforce Development programme will be made available.

Workforce data collection will also be improved to be on par with that collected for schools and higher education and will include data on ethnicity and disabilities, so the DfE can measure the impact of policies on diversity in further education staffing and leadership.

A DfE spokesperson said the white paper reforms “cannot succeed without outstanding teachers and teaching,” and the quality and supply of the workforce is “critical to the vision”.

“We recognise the need to provide greater support for, and investment in, the sector’s teachers and leaders, and we have taken steps to reverse many years of underfunding of the FE workforce,” they added.

“The measures we are setting out in this white paper allow us to deliver greater support for recruitment, retention and teacher development.”

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