Volunteer teachers seeking experience in the workplace run the risk of being exploited by employers.
That’s the result of research by academics at the University of Huddersfield, who analysed the advantages and disadvantages of the rise in voluntary, unpaid classroom work in further education colleges.
The study, by Dr Ron Thompson and Dr Lisa Russell, has been published in the Journal of Vocational Education and Training. It points to factors such as economic austerity, deregulation in the FE sector and wider acceptance of the principle of unpaid internships as a career step.
As part of their bid to obtain teaching qualifications, Dr Thompson and Dr Russell found that, in many cases, unpaid work is a valuable route to a new career but that there are also risks of exploitation and worries about the lowering of professional standards.
Theirs is the first detailed study of the impact of this trend.
They argue that it is vital that volunteer teachers are given adequate support and mentoring, and conclude that “these trainees are part of the future of FE; if their professional development is impoverished, the impact on the sector will be felt for many years to come.”
In the article Dr Thompson, Principal Research Fellow in the University’s School of Education and Professional Development, and Dr Russell, Senior Lecturer in Education and Community Studies, describe the routes taken by FE teachers in order to acquire their qualification.
There is a pre-service route incorporating teaching practice at an institution such as an FE college.
Most common is the in-service route, in which the trainee obtains paid employment in a college or other provider and then trains as a teacher by part-time study.
“However, a third and less well-known route exists, occupying an uncertain position between in-service and pre-service provision; people who teach on an unpaid or ‘voluntary’ basis can also access in-service teacher education programmes for FE,” explain the authors.
They describe the financial factors that have resulted in increased pressures to accept unpaid teaching as a basis for in-service Initial Teacher Training.
Dr Thompson and Dr Russell carried out research at 20 FE colleges that belong to a partnership, exploring the vulnerabilities of tutors and trainees, the precarious nature of their work and the challenges to professionalism in the sector.
They found most trainees viewed volunteering positively and regarded themselves as making a significant contribution. Some younger trainees, see unpaid teaching as a parallel to the internships encountered in other occupations. Some older trainees see volunteering as providing the opportunity for career change.