Making the move to FE – Factors to consider
No matter how happy or comfortable a teacher is in their role, we all scroll through job vacancy websites, often out of sheer curiosity. Working as Acting Head of English in a Secondary school, just married and with a new-born baby playing havoc with sleep patterns, I vividly remember indulging this curiosity. It was here that I chanced upon the role of Head of English and maths at a local FE college.
How could anyone manage both English and maths? What was so different about working in an FE college? I downloaded the person spec and job description and decided to apply. Surely, it couldn’t be too different from my current role?
How wrong I was!
With more and more Secondary English and maths teachers making the move into Further Education, below are just some of the factors to consider:
Priority for mock exam times; first choice for intervention; a good budget; mandatory subject embedding throughout school; main focus in Ofsted inspection and reports.
Generally, maths and English have got it pretty good in schools. There is of course additional pressure and workload, but there is also prestige attached to teaching ‘core’ subjects. This can unexpectedly change in FE.
Maths and English are vitally important and respected in FE, this is undeniable, but they don’t hold the same sway or primacy in FE as they do in schools, with some outspoken Principals openly stating the burden they pose in the media. Sharing top billing with other areas (whether academic or vocational) can be difficult to acclimatise to, but there are many benefits, including…
The Collaboration Station
Too often in Secondary, workload and the comfortable surroundings of a base classroom can mean little interaction or collaboration with other practitioners. FE, on the other hand, provides an environment rich in collaboration for E&M practitioners. With most English and maths students studying a vocational qualification, and a main vocational tutor, regular collaboration with hairdressers, engineers or sports lecturers is a must.
As well as the opportunity to share good practice, it is also an excellent chance to see students in their primary environment (the workshop, the salon, the studio) and link their vocational learning to what goes on in your classroom.
With roughly 20% of primary and secondary school teachers planning to leave the profession within the next two years due to everything from student behaviour to over-monitoring, elements of FE offer sanctuary from this potentially unmanageable workload. FE has challenges, of course (not least funding and resulting lack of resources), but there is not the sometimes-suffocating monitoring that is seen in primary and secondary education.
With interventions now seen as an expected, unpaid supplement to teaching in many schools, English and maths in FE offers freedom to take risks in the classroom and opportunities to build stronger relationships with peers and students. There are potential drawbacks – pay is generally lower and holidays tend to be shorter – but these are mitigated against due to a more manageable workload and the job satisfaction that follows.
Making a difference
Since GCSE resits became mandatory, most FE GCSE English and maths students have recently achieved a grade 3 or below in Year 11. This brings unique challenges: attendance; academic apathy; challenging behaviour; low self-esteem/confidence and a lack of trust in English and maths practitioners. It’s a skill to build relationships with resitters.
To counter each of these however, there are glorious silver linings: the opportunity to make a lasting impression on young people; truly inspiring a life-long love of learning; seeing direct impact as students progress to jobs/further qualifications/higher education, and simply giving students the confidence to follow their dreams are just some of the benefits of working with students in English and maths in FE.
“The rewards far outweigh the challenges, and the impact you can have is evidenced in every area, every day.”
Diverse learners and learning
A truly diverse and unique learning environment, FE gives regular opportunities to develop relationships with 16-19-year olds, adults, pensioners, school children, university apprentices/ graduates, employers, English and maths colleagues, vocational practitioners, pastoral leads, regional and national colleagues, charitable organisations and a host of external partners.
Every engagement with each of the above will help to craft what type of practitioner you become and this is before mentioning the array of brilliant, funny, engaging, engaged, intelligent, innovative students you will be teaching.
Not without challenges (some of which are discussed above), FE offers fantastic opportunities that are not present in any other educational setting. It offers freedom, innovation and some of the most rewarding experiences in education.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.