Over the past decade, successive governments have promised “pioneering” reforms to boost skills and jobs. In particular, following the Sainsbury Review and the Post-16 Skills Plan in 2016, the government implemented a series of reforms. Initiatives included apprenticeship levy, new apprenticeship standards, creation of IfATE, introduction of T-levels, national colleges, higher technical qualifications, etc. These reforms were all designed as part of a ten-year plan to build a “world-class skills system”. But there is a glaring problem. Without adequate investment in technical teaching staff, these reforms are doomed to failure.
After 30 years in this industry, it is clear to me that the government’s failure to develop an effective workforce strategy to recruit, retain and reward expert technical teachers is the biggest problem facing suppliers today. . And he has reached a crisis point. In 2019, the Augar Review pointed out that recruiting at FE is made more difficult by “direct competition from schools, colleges and businesses”, all of which generally offer better salaries. For example, the average salary for an FE lecturer is £31,600, compared to £37,400 for teachers and £52,000 for an HE lecturer.
The crises of the FE workforce
The FE workforce crisis is much worse because, in addition to being great teachers, FE speakers and trainers must also be industry experts. At my college, our apprentices in railway engineering, building engineering, and electrical engineering often entered more paying jobs than the people who taught them. I have lost count of the number of excellent physical education teachers who have returned to the industry due to low salaries, lack of professional recognition, job insecurity and a bureaucratic workload that keeps them from teaching their learners the technical skills they need. In an increasingly tight labor market, the shortage of technical teachers will worsen considerably.
There is a need to fundamentally rethink the funding rates for apprenticeships and higher education. It should give due consideration to the true cost to vendors of recruiting and rewarding industry expert technical trainers and speakers. This is going to require a much larger investment in all forms of FE than currently planned. While, according to government data, spending on adult education and learning is set to increase by 30% between 2020 and 2025, this only reverses a fraction of past reductions. In fact, spending on adult education is almost two-thirds lower in real terms than in 2003/04, and around 50% lower than in 2009/10.
Promises to “level up”
Headline-grabbing policies and promises to “level up” are of little use without competitive salaries and targeted investments in training. The government must act now to tackle the growing shortage of technical teachers in the sector. Without radical action, the promised “world-class skills system” is an impossible pipe dream.
This problem is exacerbated by the pervasive lack of regard for the EF, which Commons Education Committee chairman Robert Halfon describes as the “Cinderella sector”. He writes, “It is our job to banish the ugly sisters of snobbery and bigotry and fight for the resources our colleges deserve.” Very well. Achieving this is not only about differentiating FE and technical education from other levels of the system, but also about providing training that is better suited to real-world jobs.
To see where we stand, we can look to Finland, which has one of the highest ranked education systems in Europe. After successful careers in their chosen industry, many Finnish technical professionals aspire to train the next generation of workers as a logical next step in their own careers. It is a mark of pride. Finland also consults employers on developments in their sector and its skills needs. This is an enviable position for the Finnish system and one that the UK should strive to emulate.
So how would we do that?
First, we need a national plan to rebuild and strengthen our skills system after decades of underinvestment. This requires a comprehensive and coherent national skills strategy.
The national strategy should be underpinned by skills strategies for sectors critical to the UK economy. Owned by employers, these sector strategies should forecast employment and skills needs over five years, setting targets for the number of new incoming apprentices (16-19) needed to develop a talent pool for the workplace. coming. Unfortunately, too few employers plan in this way and the result is the kind of crises we’ve had with LCV drivers in recent months. Government-sponsored short-term “boot camps” and industry exemptions are band-aids in the absence of proper workforce planning and employer investment.
Second, we need a comprehensive workforce strategy for the entire FE sector, not just CEE. Its central ambition should be to recruit, support and develop the next generation of professional technical teachers.
Third, we should establish a National Institute of Technical Education to own and implement the FE workforce strategy. Its mandate should be to elevate the professional status of technical teachers, maintain professional standards, promote FE careers, and make salary recommendations. Recognizing that the sector does not need another quango, the national institute could be created through the merger of the Education and Training Foundation and the Chartered Institution for Further Education, bringing together the prestige of a royal charter and provider-owned Foundation CPD resources. The Institute’s work could be part of IfATE’s remit.
Finally, to support the new national training institute, we should establish sectoral knowledge centers for key industries. These sector-specific specialist centers would be responsible for delivering initial teacher education programs, offering industry update courses, and reviewing curricula and standards as technology and industry practices evolve. These would be development centers for technical teachers offering access to the latest technologies in the industry, including digital learning technologies. Teachers would have the right – if not the obligation – to undertake regular industry internships, similar to Edge’s teacher internships, to keep their expertise current.
R&D centers for each industrial sector?
Essentially, these would be R&D centers for each industry sector and the wider FE sector – a place where effective practices are regularly shared, ideas nurtured and collegiality celebrated. Staff working in CTUs, FECs, ITPs, IoTs, Supplier Employers and National Colleges would all have access to Knowledge Centers which could be regionally located at existing specialist FE facilities in the same way as hospitals. NHS academics.
Now is the time to act. It is one thing to reform the technical education system itself. However, the problem with the government’s skills strategy is that it treats it as a systemic problem when in fact it is a people problem. Spending millions on shiny buildings and equipment is pointless without targeted investment, competitive salaries, and ongoing CPD to deliver desired outcomes to learners. And unless we start valuing the FE workforce, we will never achieve the world-class system that our nation’s economy, employers, and individuals all deserve.
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