Working in the Further Education sector

Whether you are new to the sector, returning or want to change direction, the Further Education (FE) sector is vast and offers a number of opportunities to work in different roles and working environments.

The FE sector is made up of the following institutions and providers: 

FE colleges

FE colleges are the biggest employers in the sector and provide training and education for young people and adults. According to the Association of Colleges (AoC), there are 273 colleges in England and 120,000 full-time staff, of which 60,000 are teaching staff.

Along with general FE colleges, the sector is made up of the following:

  • sixth form colleges

  • land-based colleges specialising in agriculture and horticulture

  • art, design and performing arts

  • specialist designated colleges and arts colleges, offering a range of courses and qualifications covering the academic, vocational and leisure learning spectrum.

Adult and community learning providers (ALPs)

Community learning offers people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities the chance to gain new skills or pursue an interest in an accessible and affordable way. Courses are often run in local community centres, schools, colleges, libraries and community and voluntary sector organisations. Roles are varied, but you may be interested in working as an adult education tutor, delivering a range of community learning classes and accredited qualifications, a tutor supporting learners with complex needs, or a managerial role as a community learning manager, providing strategic direction and overseeing the commissioning of adult skills and community learning programmes.

Work-based learning (WBL)

WBL offers learners real-life work experiences to broaden their skills and knowledge and improve their chances of employment. This could be done through apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing or informal learning on the job. A number of people who work in the WBL sector undertake manager, assessor and quality assurance roles to ensure the standards of the vocational qualifications being delivered.

Offender learning and skills service (OLASS)

There are many different routes and career options when it comes to working in offender learning for new and existing teachers, along with those who are direct from industry. As a teacher, trainer or lecturer working in a prison or young offender organisation you may find yourself progressing to the role of coordinator, team leader or advanced practitioner. Your next step may be to gain Qualified Teacher of Learning and Skills (QTLS) through the Society for Education and Training (SET). As a curriculum manager leading and developing a team delivering functional skills to learners, there may also be the opportunity to progress to a role in leadership and management.

Independent learning providers (ILPs)

ILPs deliver vocational and work-based training of all kinds, from one-day courses to apprenticeships and traineeships. ILPs are made up of private companies, charitable organisations or professional associations. They commonly provide practical training in areas such as health and social care, business, law, engineering, manufacturing and retail. Training organisations are responsible for providing a range of support to employers and may employ freelance trainers or consultants as well as in-house trainers.

What different roles are there?

Direct teaching roles

As a teacher you might be delivering lectures or classroom lessons, tutoring small groups, offering practical workplace training, or providing one-to-one mentoring – many teaching roles involve a combination of these. You could be teaching a subject in a range of areas, including: vocational training, academic teaching, basic skills or recreational courses.

The responsibilities of a teacher are vast and usually include the following: planning and preparing lessons, keeping up-to-date with college policies, teaching across a range of qualification types and levels, monitoring and assessing work, researching and developing new topics and teaching materials, monitoring progress, carrying out a pastoral role to learners, not to mention keeping up with your own professional development.

"I started my FE career as a learning support assistant, working with young adults with learning difficulties and disabilities while also studying for my PGCE. Since then my roles have included lecturer, educational coordinator in residential provision, course team leader and a secondment to Head of School. I now work part time, primarily teaching young adults with profound learning difficulties and significant communication needs."
Shelley, Course Team Leader and Educational Coordinator, FE college

Non-teaching roles

There are also non-teaching roles throughout the sector for people with an education background, for example designing programmes, premises staff, writing course materials, providing consultancy services, or acting as examiners, assessors, verifiers or inspectors.

Support roles

Alongside teaching staff, the FE sector needs support staff in a variety of education-related positions. You could be a librarian, careers advisor, lab technician or work on an IT help-desk. There are also opportunities to provide learner support to learners with personal difficulties, including learning difficulties and disabilities, language issues, or financial hardship.

In addition, the FE sector employs staff in HR, finance, marketing, IT, maintenance and administration roles, all helping to build an environment and culture that encourages and develops learning and potential. These positions may also have a learner-facing element through organisation events, student voice activities or apprenticeships.

Leadership and management roles

At the top of the management structure in colleges and training companies are principals, chief executives and managing directors. Lower down the leadership ladder you might find assistant principals, heads of department, curriculum managers and team leaders, as well as directors in areas outside teaching – business, marketing and finance, for instance. Colleges also need volunteer governors to provide strategic direction and scrutinise performance.

"After several years working in sales and marketing, I went for an interview for a business development position at a college. I got the job, and then started being given more and more to do – a common FE story! I was interested in apprenticeships, so I became an apprenticeship manager in addition to my sales and marketing role. Then I moved to another college as an executive director, covering delivery of apprenticeships as well as business development, higher education, student support and more.”
Andy, Executive Director, FE college

Further information

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