HE in FE: Characteristics of teaching English in FE colleges

HE in FE

For those unfamiliar with the FE environment, here are some of its distinguishing features:

  • The cohorts for HE courses in FE colleges are typically: local; adults with families and/or jobs; people who have studied previously at the college, or worked at the college.
  • A typical intake per year is around 15-20 students. This means that teaching takes place in relatively small groups, enabling individual tuition and close relationships among students and between tutors and students.
  • There is a clear system of support for students, each group having academic and pastoral tutors, as well as the availability of learning support and study skills.
  • There is a lack of choice of modules for students in comparison with a traditional HEI.
  • The course is generally delivered by a very limited number of staff, including part-time and sometimes temporary staff.
  • The course has usually been devised by a small number of core staff, according to their specialisms. These individuals therefore become crucial to delivering the course.
  • Conversely, in order to counteract problems of finding replacement staff to teach specialist areas, ‘safe’ options may be taken when designing additional or replacement modules, creating a danger that the course becomes more mainstream and less distinctive.
  • Staff in FE have heavy teaching loads, across all levels. A typical week for a full-time member of staff includes 24 hours of teaching, which may be in several different subjects and ranging from pre-GCSE to degree level.
  • Although preparation time required for HE teaching is generally greater, there is no allowance made for this.
  • Staff have very little admin support and will be required to complete all admin associated with their teaching jobs themselves. This may include tasks such as writing and sending information letters out to individual students, as well as filling in registers, keeping course files, and making schemes of work and lesson plans.
  • FE colleges do not generally support a research culture. Staff are not expected to conduct their own research, and there is no requirement to contribute to a RAE. While this alleviates them from the pressures relating to this encountered in universities, it also means that no time is allowed for research, and no value is attached to it. There are no obvious networks for helping with academic writing, or for conducting independent research.
  • Conferences aimed at FE lecturers tend to be focused around meeting government targets, linking with businesses, the skills agenda, and changes in relation to the development of Vocational Diplomas and HE in FE.  They are less likely to be about new research, subject areas, or even teaching and learning.