College pro-staff plans in jeopardy

January 22, 1999

Landmark plans to professionalise teaching in further education colleges could be scuppered by apathy and a lack of cash.

Ministers are expected to herald one of the biggest quality improvement initiatives in the college sector next week with the launch of national professional teaching standards, leading to qualified teacher status for all college lecturers.

The professional standards, drawn up by the Further Education National Training Organisation, will be launched by higher education minister Baroness Blackstone on Monday.

But the launch of the standards could be blighted by concerns over money, and new research that questions the sectors' willingness properly to embrace continuing professional development.

Currently 20 per cent of a workforce of around 250,000 have no teaching qualification. Just 18 per cent have degrees; 15 per cent have postgraduate teacher training qualifications .

Terry Melia, shadow chairman of Fento, said "a massive army" of unqualified lecturers, especially part-time staff, will need to be trained. But he said that money for delivery will largely have to come from existing college budgets or individual lecturers.

The government has promised a new "standards fund", which education secretary David Blunkett said would help lecturers gain teaching qualifications. But the fund - Pounds 35 million for 1999-2000, rising to Pounds 80 million in 2000-01 - is to be thinly spread among four priority areas. The standards fund is to be used for intervening in failing colleges, creating and supporting failing colleges' recovery plans, disseminating good practice and the professional development of college lecturers and managers.

The Further Education Funding Council is understood to be concerned about the distribution of the money. Chief inspector of colleges Jim Donaldson confirmed that the council has been in talks with ministers about how the fund is divided. It is understood that staff development will be a secondary priority to improving students' achievement.

"There are important questions about how the standards fund is taken forward," said Mr Donaldson. "The major issues include students' retention and achievement and staff development. We have highlighted these issues." Detailed plans for dividing the fund will be announced in February.

Research published this week questions the commitment of colleges to deliver professional development. A report by the FEFC's inspectorate shows that colleges are reluctant to pay for staff development, or to allow time for staff training, and do not research the benefits of training.

In 1992, 0.5 per cent of total college funding, Pounds 13 million, was earmarked for staff development. Now staff training is discretionary, some individual colleges spend as little as 0.1 per cent of their budget on training, the FEFC said.

A survey by the Association of Colleges published this week found that half of colleges provided full-funding for employees pursuing professional qualifications. Half allocated a specific number of training days, usually about five or six days a year.

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