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Worst staffing crisis in two decades in England's colleges

04 March 2022

New findings today highlight a staffing crisis in England’s colleges which risks stunting the economy and halting any chance the government has of truly levelling up the country.

Association of Colleges – the national voice for colleges – surveyed its members with some worrying findings. There is now estimated to be more than 6,000 job vacancies in England’s colleges – the most there has been in over two decades - with high levels of persistent vacancies in priority areas such as construction, engineering, health and social care and science and maths.

The AoC report, ‘College Staffing Challenges in 2022’ calls for a concerted national push to tackle the recruitment and retention problem before it worsens.

The report, which had responses from 48% of all colleges, found that:

  • The average number of vacancies per college was 30, with one reporting 162 vacancies
  • 1,853 vacancies were in support areas, with high levels of persistent vacancies in learning support roles, student services and facilities and estates roles
  • 96% of respondents report that the current level of vacancies is creating increased pressure on existing staff
  • 61% said that vacancies were having a significant impact on the amount they are having to spend on agency fees.

Association of Colleges is pushing for government to work with the sector so that colleges can pay their staff better and support them with their development. As it stands, teachers in schools are currently paid over £9,000 more than college lectures on average, despite many college lecturers being more specialist and having brought real-life industry experience to their roles.

Recent ONS data (December 2021) showed that:

  • Private sector pay has increased by 5.4%
  • Public sector pay has increased by 2.5%
  • Education sector pay has increased by 0.3% (with most of that landing outside of further education)

The recruitment and retention crisis in colleges has also been exacerbated by a decade of cuts, and endless reform. Though there have been recent announcements of new funding for the sector (often offset by cuts and new financial burdens), the varied nature of courses and provision offered at FE colleges, means that a cash injection in one area (16-18) does not necessarily lead to stable financial health overall, given many colleges cater for everything from level 1 to higher education students. Funding to teach adult learners has not increased for 13 years, despite huge increases in costs. This is especially important because AoC data shows that the average age of a student in a college is 28.

AoC is calling on the government to:

  • Take important short-term actions, including adjustments to the 2021-2 adult education performance rules and providing sufficient flexibility in 16-18 funding for 2022-3
  • Commit to concerted action on whole college funding including funding increases and reform, action to reduce external bureaucracy and improvements to teacher training routes.

Kirsti Lord, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“The issue for colleges around recruiting and retaining staff has been building for some time, it is a symptom of the decision to freeze or reduce colleges funding for over a decade and has left the sector struggling to keep pace on pay. In relation to schools, college pay doesn’t even come close and when potential staff can earn far more in their specific industry it makes it increasingly difficult for colleges to attract the people they desperately need.

FE recruitment campaigns are extremely welcome, but a long-term solution is required if colleges are to be able to deliver on the government’s skills and levelling up agenda. Colleges stand ready to do everything they can to support people to get the education and training they need – they can only do that with the funding to enable them to keep up with other sectors.”

Report - AoC college staffing challenges - February 2022 - FINAL

2021-22 college staff vacancies - AoC Survey report January 2022.