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Recent employer surveys suggest we are seeing unprecedented levels of skills shortages, threatening England’s prospects for economic growth. T levels have been specially designed to address these national skills shortages. Additionally, earlier this year Rishi Sunak set a mission for all young people to study maths to age 18, citing the link between basic numeracy skills and individuals’ future earnings.

The success of these and other initiatives to reduce skills shortages in the economy are all reliant on the FE sector, particularly the skill and capacity of the FE teaching workforce. Funding for the FE sector from government has failed to reflect this.

In 2019/20, per-pupil funding for FE colleges was eight per cent lower in real terms compared with 2013/14, making it difficult for colleges to allocate money for higher staff pay. This trend has been partially reversed recently, but it remains to be seen how much of the 18 per cent fall in real-terms pay for FE teachers since 2010/11 will be reinstated.

Deteriorating pay is likely to be contributing to increasingly severe staffing shortages. Data from the Association of Colleges shows that the average college has 30 unfilled teaching vacancies, while DfE data shows that over the past decade the rate of FE teachers leaving the profession has been significantly higher than for primary and secondary school teachers. This situation has been getting worse, with over half of FE teachers who entered the profession in 2014/15 leaving the sector within five years.

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