From education to employment

Neglected Further Education Faces Exodus of #Talent

Teachers are deserting Further Education in an exodus of talent that could hurt poor students and leave the sector without effective leadership in the coming years, a think-tank has warned. 

The Social Market Foundation said that political neglect of the FE sector is harming the life chances of millions of poor students. Politicians must do much more to support the FE sector and ensure colleges and other providers have strong leaders in future. 

The SMF warning come after the Augar Review of post-18 education urged politicians to give more money and support to Further Education and the millions of learners who rely on it. 

Most FE students are from low-income homes. Of the 2.2 million people aged 19 and over studying in FE institutions, more than half are from the lowest income households.   Almost a third of all FE students — 683,000 people — are from the most deprived 20% of the population.

In their report “Leading skills: Exploring leadership in Further Education colleges – Paper 2” supported by the Further Education Trust for Leadership, the SMF said that more than one in five FE teachers leaves the sector each year, a worse retention rate than for any high-skilled job in the public sector.   

FE teachers have been abandoning the sector as budgets shrink, the SMF said: the annual retention rate dropped has 5 percentage points from 84% in 2012 to 79%.

To stem the loss of potential future leaders, the SMF recommended ministers offer a package of support for “middle leaders” in FE giving teachers a clearer path to leadership roles, including more money for training and development.  

Ministers should also consider creating an independent staff college for FE, similar to the National College for School Leadership, to promote the status of FE and develop leadership talent in the sector. 

The SMF report builds on the analysis of the recent Augar Review, which warned that FE is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain “high quality teachers and leaders”, partly because the schools sector offers significantly higher pay.

The Augar Review said this of FE staffing: 

“Recruitment of high quality teachers and leaders is made challenging by direct competition from schools, HEIs and business, all of which typically offer more attractive rates of pay for comparable roles.” (p128)

Nigel Keohane, SMF research director, said:

“Politicians have too long ignored the crucial role that Further Education plays in teaching and training millions of the most disadvantaged people in Britain. This exodus of talent as well as steep funding cuts are testament to this neglect.“Colleges need strong leaders who can deliver opportunity for learners and skills for their local economies. Now is the moment to invest in a pipeline of talent for the future.”

The SMF made several detailed recommendations for how FE can strengthen its “pipeline” of future leaders, starting with middle leaders in the sector: 


Increase investment: The DfE and the sector should increase investment in training and development for middle leaders, and the Middle Leaders programmes should be expanded significantly.

Create a formal qualification: The DfE should also consult on whether to create a formal qualification similar to the National Professional Headship Qualification in schools, with a view to creating a qualification that can act as a signal to potential leaders and to governing bodies.

FE Leaders Career Plan Guide: Sector bodies should create an FE Leaders Career Plan Guide to help talented junior managers understand the paths to leadership.

Public Services Leadership Academy: The Government should invite FE colleges to participate in its new Public Services Leadership Academy. We believe this could benefit the FE sector (especially those one-rung below principal) and other parts of the public sector.

Independent staff college: The DfE, in collaboration with sector bodies, should consult on establishing an independent staff college (similar to the National College for School Leadership) to promote the status of FE as well as to be responsible for system-level initiatives to retain and develop leadership talent in the sector.

Subsidise training: The DfE should consider a generous scheme to subsidise training and development and to reimburse colleges for time taken off to train by middle leaders.

Graduate programme: Unlike many other sectors, FE does not have a graduate programme for bringing in and developing talent. Previous attempts to bring in leaders from outside the sector have also had mixed success. That makes it especially important for FE to support existing staff as potential leaders, the SMF said. 

The report was supported by the Further Education Trust for Leadership, a registered charity. The SMF retained full editorial independence and is committed to naming all its financial supporters.

About the Social Market Foundation (SMF): A non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets.  The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

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