Two years ago, lecturers in further education didn't need teaching qualifications. But the Government wants to raise standards, says Neil Merrick, which means a new regime - and new lessons - for teachers in the sector

Earlier this term, 130 lecturers enrolled in teacher training courses at Lincoln College. In the past, there would have been a fairly even split between lecturers employed by the college itself and staff who teach elsewhere, including some from outside further education.

But incredibly, around 100 of this year's candidates work at Lincoln. The college estimates that about one in four of its 200 full-time lecturers or instructors are hoping to gain teaching qualifications, along with a similar number of part-time staff.

Until two years ago, it was not necessary for FE lecturers to be trained teachers. Since September 2001, newly appointed staff have been required to hold or gain teaching qualifications while untrained staff who were already in posts are strongly encouraged to get qualified. The result has been a major effort by colleges such as Lincoln to train-up new and existing lecturers - sometimes, but not always, in their own teacher training departments.

Cathy Hairsine, Lincoln's programme leader for professional development, says most lecturers recognise the benefit for greater professionalism and new staff are most keen to train. "National standards are part of everyday life. People welcome the fact that they get support," she says.

But she admits there are pockets of resistance among experienced staff with a proven track record who do not necessarily see the need to gain a teaching qualification later in their career.

"In the first instance they may resent having to gain a qualification," says Hairsine. "But we have had a few who have gone through and got over the resentment and now see the benefits of doing it."

Whereas most schoolteachers complete training before their first job, the vast majority of lecturers find a post first and attend in-service courses. Colleges with training departments often deliver such courses for higher education institutions under franchising arrangements.

Chris Winter, franchise manager for FE teacher training at the University of Wolverhampton, says the numbers on courses at its ten partner colleges rose by 30 per cent this year to about 700.

Many colleges are making pay rises or promotion dependent upon lecturers gaining a teaching qualification. "There are lots of people in the system who have been teaching up to 20 years who will be seriously disadvantaged if they don't gain a qualification," he says.

Twelve months ago Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, promised funding for staff development in FE would rise to more than £100m a year by 2005/6. To ensure that training is of the same quality throughout the country, all qualifications are based on standards set by the Further Education National Training Organisation (otherwise known as Fento).

"It is the first time that there has been a coherent and consistent review of teacher education in FE," says Hilary Stone, Fento's director of quality and standards. "Not only is it improving the quality of the workforce but it raises the status of the qualifications themselves."

In January 2002, Fento estimated that 11 per cent of full-time and 28 per cent of part-time lecturers did not hold teaching qualifications. As it can take up to four years to gain some qualifications, it is too early to say whether these figures will come down significantly.

By 2010, the only lecturers without teaching qualifications should be new entrants to the profession. Colleges are required to produce three-year development plans showing how they intend to upskill staff. Blackpool and the Fylde College has created a fast-track for existing lecturers to gain teaching qualifications. Staff who attend courses have their teaching timetables reduced by three hours per week.

Principal Reg Chapman says it is "blindingly obvious" that FE teachers should be professionally qualified even though it has taken a long time to get this far. "In the long run, this will prove to be one of the most important things that the government has done in recent years."

About 15 per cent of staff at Barnfield College, Luton, are studying for teaching qualifications each year. But vice-principal Finton Donohue says lecturers in subjects such as construction and plumbing can struggle to meet the academic standards demanded of them.

"There is a real danger that, at a time of skill shortages in FE, this could be counter-productive," he says. "Some people are reluctant to pursue a qualification and are more likely to return to industry."

Another group sometimes less keen to train are part-time staff who only teach for a few hours per week. Although they have up to four years to gain qualifications, part-timers may still be unwilling to give up their own time to attend a course.

At Barnfield, part-time lecturers with teaching qualifications are paid an extra £1 per hour. "It sends a signal that professional development is important and provided by the college," adds Donohue.

Wynne Handley, chair of the National Association for Staff Development in FE, says better teacher training is part of the professionalisation of the college workforce. "If you are employed as a teacher, you should be qualified as teacher, even though you may be employed for your experience in a particular subject."

A new report on teacher training in FE by the Office for Standards in Education, due to be published next week, is expected to be highly critical of some courses. In response, the Government is likely to pledge improved support for new lecturers, including the wider provision in colleges of mentors for advice and support.

It is not only lecturers who are expected to gain qualifications. Fento has produced national standards for college managers and clerks, while teachers of adult basic skills are now required to gain new specialist qualifications in addition to being trained teachers.

Fento has spent the past year holding discussions with other employer organisations over the creation of a sector skills council for all post-compulsory learning other than school sixth form. Ultimately this could lead to teachers in FE, higher education and work-based learning holding qualifications based on the same core standards but reflecting the different environments in which they work.

David Hunter, Fento's chief executive, says: "It is about creating a more professional basis for the whole sector as well as a more level playing field."

Back in Lincoln, director of personnel Ben Brown says the college expects to see higher quality teaching and improved recruitment and retention rates among students. "We are looking for some sort of pay-back for the investment we are making in our staff," he says. "The most important thing is the impact that it has in the classroom."