Last week, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced it will offer bursaries of up to £20,000 to graduates to teach maths or English at further education colleges. This will undoubtedly go some way to driving up the quality of teaching academic subjects in FE colleges.
A good level of English and maths is a prerequisite for many jobs in manufacturing. For example three-quarters of manufacturers say they prioritise attainment in English and maths when recruiting Apprentices.
Yet despite this obvious demand, employers still say that young people lack the numeracy and literacy skills needed to be successful in the workplace. This, together with a range of other factors has resulted in four in five manufacturing companies experiencing recruitment difficulties, in all areas of their business.
The announcement of grants is a step in the right direction. It encourages graduates to think about teaching in FE colleges as well as schools. For some time now talented graduates in key subjects have been awarded bursaries for teaching their subjects in schools; extending this to FE colleges helps to ensure that quality teaching is secured throughout the education system.
But as with many Government announcements, we think Government could do more. In the case of graduates teaching at both schools and FE colleges, we believe Government should now explore the merits in capping the repayment of fees of graduates that study these subjects and then go onto teach them.
In addition, should we only be attracting graduates into schools and colleges to key subjects? Is there not a role for employers too? In our Skills for Growth report, we recommended that Government allowed industry experts to teach science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), in schools (and extended to colleges) on a part-time basis.
Feedback from many of our manufacturing companies suggests they have an increasing appetite to get involved in engaging in schools through teaching young people. Moreover, many are already doing so. Speaking to one of our aerospace member companies recently gave an insight into the great work manufacturers are doing, including providing teacher training days for technology teachers, and supporting sciences at a local upper school by sending their own engineers in to facilitate workshops in the school to demonstrate how they use the sciences in their jobs.
Moving back to graduates teaching in further education colleges, we might begin to think how else we can ensure those teaching at FE colleges can best prepare their students for the world of work? Yes numeracy and literacy skills are of pivotal importance, but so are employability skills and technical skills. And what about the role further education teachers play in influencing their students' future career decisions?
We believe we have the answer. We made a further recommendation in our Skills for Growth report, for all teachers, as part of their continuous professional development, to undertake two to five days a year working in local industry.
This would then allow employers to demonstrate the practical application of the subjects being taught which they can then bring back to the classroom. It would also give teachers a sense of what employers expect of young people leaving the education system so they can better prepare their students for the world of work. And finally, it will give teachers the opportunity to learn about local labour market opportunities which they can relay back to their pupils. After all, some of the best manufacturing companies are often right outside their doorstep.