New Insights into the Further Education Workforce: a significant recruitment challenge

By Dawson McLean and Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard

Friday 1 September 2023

This blog post was published in FE Week on Thursday 31 August 2023.

New data on the further education (FE) workforce released for the first time by DfE today reveals that FE teachers working in general FE colleges earn significantly less than their colleagues working in other educational institutions. In 2021/22, the median salary for an FE teacher working full time in a general FE college was £33,426. Notwithstanding how the characteristics of FE teachers in FE colleges may differ from those teaching in other institutions (e.g. in number of years of experience), overall this was over £6,000 lower than for a classroom teacher in the schools sector in the same year. It was also nearly £9,000 lower than for an FE teacher working in a sixth-form college.

The extent of the recruitment challenge

The data shows that, across all FE providers at the end of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 5.4 vacant teaching positions per 100 teaching positions. These rates differed by region, with the highest rate in Yorkshire and Humber at 8.5 vacancies per 100 teaching positions. Vacancy rates differed by subjects, with construction, electronics, agriculture and engineering and manufacturing subjects are all double the national average.

Sixth form colleges versus FE colleges

The data also reveals that, while there were about 10 times more teaching staff in general FE colleges than sixth form colleges, the latter had lower vacancy rates (1.4 per 100) to the former (5.7 per 100). Whilst some of this may relate to the differences in median salaries, the data highlights distinct differences in contract type across the different providers. In sixth form colleges, 86 per cent of teaching staff were on a permanent contract while under five per cent were on fixed or zero-hour contracts. In comparison, 76 per cent of teaching staff in general FE colleges were on permanent contracts while around 10 per cent were on fixed term or zero hours contracts.  

Equality, diversity and inclusion

The data reveals that male staff were more likely to work full-time and on a permanent or fixed term contract than female staff, although teachers in the FE workforce were predominantly female (60 per cent), white (81 per cent), and with a median age of 47.  The reported median salaries for male teaching staff were higher than for female teaching staff in most FE providers, except in sixth form colleges.

Building much needed insights and understanding

This data is a valuable new resource on the FE workforce in England – how it is recruited, retained, deployed and developed. Overall, the data provides key contextual information on the FE workforce and highlights some of the significant recruitment challenges faced by the sector. Today’s publication of this new high-quality data is a welcome first step to addressing these challenges, by building awareness of the scale of the challenge within the sector and among policymakers. Before now, data on the FE workforce has largely been absent, until the Augar Review of post-18 education recommendation that the government ‘improve’ data collection across the sector.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) launched the FE workforce data collection in 2021 to fill this gap, which became mandatory for all eligible providers from September 2022. This has brought data collection capacity for the FE sector in line with state-funded schools and higher education, which have had comprehensive, mandatory workforce data collections for more than a decade.

However, today’s data release is not without its limitations. The DfE note that, while response rates to the data collection for general FE colleges and sixth form colleges were very good, they were lower for private sector and other publicly-funded providers and thus may provide an incomplete picture for those types of providers. Additionally, since this is the first year of data, it is not yet possible to estimate retention rates for FE teachers, nor is it possible to analyse trends over time. The value of the workforce data will therefore only increase over time, as response rates improve and future waves of data enable practitioners, policymakers and researchers to draw out even more practical lessons, insights and nuance.