A new government website and marketing campaign won’t be enough to tackle rising staff vacancies, writes Geraint Jones
We’ve seen a lot of justifiable hand-wringing of late about the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.
It comes after the latest government figures showed a worrying 24 per cent fall in applications to initial teacher training in a year.
Yet within the debate, there has been surprisingly little attention given to the current situation in post-16 and further education – where things are equally dire.
As far back as 2019, the Augar Review reported that over 40 per cent of lecturers and leaders in the sector intended to leave the profession, and the mood in colleges up and down the country has arguably not improved.
More than half of college principals find recruitment difficult, a Department for Education survey for last year’s Skills for Jobs white paper revealed.
Meanwhile vacancy rates in “crucial” subject areas, such as engineering, and construction, were as high as five per cent. Overall, vacancies within FE colleges were 32 per cent higher last year than they were in 2020, according to recruiters Morgan Hunt.
This is a crisis that cannot continue. As the country shapes its industrial strategy for a post-Brexit world, the demand for a highly skilled workforce sharpens.
This is a crisis that cannot continue
Rightly, government is coming forward with measures designed to bolster post-16 vocational and technical education. These include T Levels, qualification reform and, recently, its “Teach in FE” campaign.
Indeed, who could argue with its aspiration to encourage 4,000 additional teachers into FE by 2025?
But a marketing campaign and new website alone won’t achieve this.
At the heart of government’s campaign is acknowledgement that we need more industry professionals in FE, with up-to-date skills and knowledge of their sector and craft.
And so the idea of the “portfolio career” was born.
This is nothing new: practitioners have always lectured in FE colleges, and these relationships form the backbone of our vocational education today.
What would benefit these staff, however, is excellent training in the actual craft of teaching. This involves: how to break down learning, plan lessons and make a course engaging; how to assess, coach and stretch students; how to manage a class and spot pastoral problems.
In essence, we need training that shows staff how to blend first-class industry practice with the gift of teaching.
Acquiring these skills while maintaining a viable portfolio career is currently very difficult, as few professionals have the luxury of stepping away from work while they train.
At the National Institute for Teaching and Education we have plans under way to launch a targeted PGCE post-16 and FE course that is delivered online. It will be available via apprenticeship or tuition fee routes.
The course will follow our existing “any time, any place” model. It is hoped this will enable aspiring lecturers, who often already have successful careers, to balance their working lives with studying for a fully accredited teaching qualification.
Alongside recruitment, the government needs to address retention. Removing the qualification requirement to teach in FE was a blow to the sector’s status.
Lower-on-average pay rates have also done very little to bolster morale.
It is critical that wherever students learn, they have access to high-quality teaching.
This includes aspiring graphic designers, electricians, veterinary nurses and other professional and vocational students training in sixth forms and colleges, everywhere from Cumbria to Cornwall.
For them, having the opportunity to learn their craft from an experienced professional is essential; and that’s why we need practitioners who can deliver engaging learning, accessible subject knowledge and positive coaching.
This means encouraging highly skilled talent into the sector, training them in the craft of teaching, and creating the conditions that make them want to stay.