Skip to main content

How the legacy of the FEPDG might just ensure Cinderella shall go to the ball - Karen Anderton

22nd June 2023

by Karen Anderton, Head of Teaching and Learning Academy, Wigan & Leigh College

It was thirty-four years ago in 1989 that the phrase “Cinderella service” was first attached to FE as a sector. The then minister of education under Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Baker, was reflecting on the lack of government attention and focus on the further education (FE) sector.

Why does it linger?

The difficulties in shaking off the Cinderella label are not surprising when we pause for a moment and just consider pay and retention. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (2023) “What has happened to college teacher pay in England?” provides some indication as to why this legacy still remains. Its conclusions included:

  • cuts to post-16 education of 14 per centr, and classroom based adult education cut by significantly more
  • the pay gap between a college teacher, on £34,500, and a school teacher on £41,500.
  • the proportion of college staff leaving the profession is higher than among school teachers and NHS staff and currently stands at 16 per cent per year
  • less than 25 per cent of college teachers are still in the profession after 10 years, compared to 60 per cent of school teachers

These facts are staggering considering the increasing demands placed on FE teachers, which include data driven accountability structures and responsibilities to mentor learners to develop wider skills that are beyond the traditional “core” curriculum.

This involves delivering topics such as Fundamental British Values, developing healthy relationships, and undertaking social action activity which is not only challenging at times but also offers a moral and public service in contributing to a better society and ensuring learners become active citizens. In part, this is why FE should not be seen as second class but instead a first-class pivotal actor between schools, employers, and whole communities.

I believe we shouldn’t be the Cinderella of the sector, but instead the Fairy Godmother, positioned to grant the government’s wish of resolving the nation’s skill shortages.

Highly skilled staff are tasked with developing and supporting the “whole person”. FE teachers are also dual-professionals, which adds another layer to the complex world of recruitment and retention. The Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) report (2013) considered that a distinguishing characteristic of excellent vocational teaching and learning is this dual professionalism of staff – defined in the report as “...teachers and trainers who combine occupational and pedagogical expertise, and are trusted and given the time to develop partnerships and curricula with employers; access to industry-standard facilities and resource.” Across FE, we recognise that investing in vocational updating is one of the keys to success and we owe it to our learners to ensure that their teachers not only believe and care, but are experts in their field.

To help support the FE sector in strengthening the professional development and progression of the FE workforce, a national Further Education Professional Development Grants Pilot (FEPDG) was launched in 2021. In Greater Manchester, Wigan and Leigh College was fully committed to actively participating in this from the initial stages and because of the afore mentioned challenges, the two priority areas we chose to focus on were developing subject-specific professional development and support for new and inexperienced teachers.

As part of the initial pilot, the college introduced more robust support for new teachers including reduced timetables, a comprehensive college induction programme, allocation of a subject specialist mentor and allocation of a Professional Tutor. The impact was stark, staff turnover reduced and there was a marked improvement in overall staff satisfaction rates. On the strength of this, as the FEPDG project had finished, the college decided to continue driving this agenda and created the Teaching and Learning Academy. Engaging in this FEPDG pilot provided a blueprint for an effective way forward and we didn’t want to stop there.

The Teaching and Learning Academy exists to provide greater capacity for excellence in CPD, vocational upskilling and staff development, building on the legacy of the FEPDG. As head of the academy, I am responsible for planning and delivering the internal teaching staff CPD programme and spearheading external relationships and partnerships to deliver on the vision. Working in close collaboration with the quality manager, we ensure the professional tutor support for staff is effective as well as aligning the internal programme with external teacher education developments.

This focus is on improving the support for new teachers by blending the knowledge and skills of the Teaching and Learning Academy with the Human Resources department to create a more impactful approach.

Of course, we continue to face the sector-wide challenges of attracting new teachers into the market and there has been a notable increase in the number of unqualified teachers applying for teaching roles in specific sectors such as construction. In response the Teaching and Learning Academy has developed a recruitment pack to effectively assess the suitability of unqualified teachers whilst maintaining high expectations. We consider that the pedagogical knowledge and skills can be developed through CPD and our teacher education offer, however underpinning values, beliefs and behaviours such as views on EDI are much more difficult to influence.

The challenges faced by the sector, including maintaining a dual professional workforce and attracting and supporting new and inexperienced teachers hasn’t gone away and the more recent Open University’s Business Barometer Report (2022) concludes this is now even more challenging with current issues such as inflation, rising costs and workers leaving the labour market all adding to a multifaceted landscape.

However, this is a situation that leaders can address through targeted investment in vocational updating and CPD. This could just be our route to changing the landscape of teacher recruitment, training, updating and engagement including in partnership work.

After all the Fairy Godmother label is one we would much prefer.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.