The recruitment of VET teachers and the failure of policy in England’s Further Education sector

Year: 2019

Author: Orr, Kevin, Hanley, Pam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The government in England is attempting yet again to implement a wide-ranging reform of the vocational education and training (VET) system with their Post-16 Skills Plan. Within that context this paper reports on a study that revealed chronic difficulties in recruiting VET teachers to England’s further education (FE) colleges. FE colleges resemble TAFE colleges and are where the majority of vocational courses in England are offered. This paper seeks to explain these difficulties in recruiting VET teachers (focusing mainly on Engineering) at two levels: from the perspective of college managers; and then how these managers’ specific problems in recruitment illuminate wider policy implementation in the sector.

The English FE sector is characterised by political instability. Since the early 1980s there have been 28 major pieces of legislation relating to VET and there have been over 48 ministers with relevant responsibility. Reform has been piled on reform and yet there has been serial failure to produce lasting change in the sector. Through investigating the recruitment of VET teachers, this study examined a microcosm of that persistent failure. We interviewed senior managers in human resources and engineering departments from 24 of the 50 largest colleges in England by turnover.

There was near unanimous acknowledgement that recruiting suitably qualified engineering teachers was challenging. FE colleges are competing directly with industry for employees and respondents stated that colleges were at a significant disadvantage, most notably due to differential salaries. Many colleges were making extraordinary efforts to employ appropriately qualified staff. One conspicuous finding was that recruitment agencies exacerbated colleges’ problems because agencies removed individuals from the open employment market and because the quality of agency staff was inconsistent.

These difficulties in recruiting SET teachers reveal three persistent weaknesses in policy planning and help to explain the serial failure of VET policy in England. Firstly, policy-makers have borrowed policy that they have seen in other countries but which they then fail to contextualise for England’s VET system. Secondly, if policy-makers had properly examined the current position of colleges, here in relation to recruitment, they might be more circumspect in their expectations. Thirdly, while college managers are expending considerable effort on preserving existing provision, they are unlikely to strategically develop VET as proposed in political reforms. And so policy churn continues.