New FE workforce data reveals a significant recruitment challenge

The NFER's Dawson McLean and Lisa Morrison Coulthard pick out key findings from the first DfE collection of FE workforce data

The NFER's Dawson McLean and Lisa Morrison Coulthard pick out key findings from the first DfE collection of FE workforce data

31 Aug 2023, 14:51

New data on the further education (FE) workforce released for the first time by DfE today reveals that FE teachers working in general FE colleges earn significantly less than their colleagues working in other educational institutions. In 2021/22, the median salary for an FE teacher working full time in a general FE college was £33,426. Notwithstanding how the characteristics of FE teachers in FE colleges may differ from those teaching in other institutions (e.g. in number of years of experience), overall this was over £6,000 lower than for a classroom teacher in the schools sector in the same year. It was also nearly £9,000 lower than for a FE teacher working in a sixth-form college.

The extent of the recruitment challenge

The data shows that, across all FE providers at the end of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 5.4 vacant teaching positions per 100 teaching positions. These rates differed by region, with the highest rate in Yorkshire and the Humber at 8.5 vacancies per 100 teaching positions. Vacancy rates differed by subjects, with construction, electronics, agriculture and engineering and manufacturing subjects all double the national average.

Sixth form colleges vs FE colleges

The data also reveals that, while there were about 10 times more teaching staff in general FE colleges than sixth form colleges, the latter had lower vacancy rates (1.4 per 100) than the former (5.7 per 100).

While some of this may relate to the differences in median salaries, the data highlights distinct differences in contract type across the different providers. In sixth form colleges, 86 per cent of teaching staff were on a permanent contract while under five per cent were on fixed or zero-hour contracts. In comparison, 76 per cent of teaching staff in general FE colleges were on permanent contracts while around 10 per cent were on fixed-term or zero hour contracts.  

Equality, diversity and inclusion

The data reveals that male staff were more likely to work full-time and on a permanent or fixed-term contract than female staff, although teachers in the FE workforce were predominantly female (60 per cent), white (81 per cent), and with a median age of 47.  The reported median salaries for male teaching staff were higher than for female teaching staff in most FE providers, except in sixth form colleges.

Building insight and understanding

This data is a valuable new resource on the FE workforce in England – how it is recruited, retained, deployed and developed. Overall, the data provides key contextual information on the FE workforce and highlights some of the significant recruitment challenges faced by the sector.

Today’s publication of this new high-quality data is a welcome first step to addressing these challenges, by building awareness of the scale of the challenges within the sector and among policymakers. Before now, data on the FE workforce had largely been absent until the Augar review of post-18 education’s recommendation that the government ‘improve’ data collection across the sector. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) launched the FE workforce data collection in 2021 to fill this gap, which became mandatory for all eligible providers from September 2022.

This has brought data collection capacity for the FE sector in line with state-funded schools and higher education, which have had comprehensive, mandatory workforce data collections for more than a decade.

However, today’s data release is not without its limitations. The DfE notes that, while response rates to the data collection for general FE colleges and sixth form colleges were very good, they were lower for private sector and other publicly-funded providers and thus may provide an incomplete picture for those types of providers.

Additionally, since this is the first year of data, it is not yet possible to estimate retention rates for FE teachers, nor is it possible to analyse trends over time. The value of the workforce data will therefore only increase over time, as response rates improve and future waves of data enable practitioners, policymakers and researchers to draw out even more practical lessons, insights and nuance.

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One comment

  1. Colleges have an enormous challenge, there are a variety of issues that many face:
    – Salaries often out of kilter and budgets are tight
    – Shortage of Occupationally Competent Trainers, Assessors, Lecturers
    – Additional pressure on existing staff
    – High price contractors for a short term fix
    – Lengthy and convoluted hiring processes
    – Lack of support for those transitioning from organisations outside of education

    What can be done?
    >Simplifying application processes, reviewing essential criteria, remove closing dates and speed up the recruitment process
    >Use specialist recruiters
    >Golden hello’s and market supplements
    >Promote flexible working (eg compressed hours, consider part-time applicants for full time roles, more homeworking)
    >Highlight the pension, holidays and development opportunities

    Here at the National Skills Agency (specialist recruiter for the Apprenticeship & Training marketplace) we work hard to showcase the benefits of working in FE, brining in strong candidates from out of sector is tough but not impossible. Our biggest barrier isn’t always salary it’s often a slow and painful application process that sets the tone in the candidates mind. Some College are quick and nimble and they will reap the rewards, what can you do to help influence the process?

    We are here to help. 020 3953 1984