Since September 2001, and following a recommendation in the 1998 Green Paper The Learning Age, all teachers in further education and the skills training sector have been required to hold, or to be working towards, a nationally recognized teaching qualification for that sector of education, now known as the lifelong learning sector or (except in Scotland) as the learning and skills sector. Initially, the standards for these qualifications were drawn up by the Further Education National Training Organization (FENTO), which endorsed a range of teaching qualifications awarded by higher education institutions and other awarding bodies, such as the City and Guilds of London Institute. These standards were known as the FENTO standards. They were replaced in 2007 by a revised set of national standards drawn up, following consultation with the sector, by Lifelong Learning UK and its standards and verification arm, Standards and Verification UK (SVUK), which replaced and took over some of the functions of FENTO. The revised standards are known as the QTLS standards, and it is a requirement that all newly appointed teachers to the sector must hold a qualification which meets these standards. This could be a specialized SVUK‐endorsed Certificate of Education or Postgraduate or Professional Certificate of Education, or a teaching qualification at National Qualifications Framework level 5 or 6 from one of the commercial awarding bodies.
The QTLS standards are made up of six domains, covering key aspects of the further education teacher's role. These are: access and progression, professional values and practice, specialist learning and teaching, planning for learning, learning and teaching, and assessment for learning. There is an emphasis on reflective practice and on promoting equality. To achieve QTLS status, teachers must also perform satisfactorily in a set of communication and numeracy skills known as the minimum core.
Prior to 2001 the further education sector employed large numbers of teachers with no formal teaching qualification. This was due largely to the focus of the sector on specialized vocational training, which meant that it was the quality of the vocational skills which the teacher would be expected to pass on, for example in catering, mechanical engineering, hairdressing, or electronics, which were seen as of paramount importance, rather than the quality of their teaching. It therefore tended to be skilled craftspeople, specialist instructors, or experts with professional qualifications in their specialist vocational area who were recruited as ‘teachers’. This model, of the experts passing on their skills and knowledge, was closely related to the traditional concept of apprenticeship. Teacher training, if it took place, was usually voluntary, and was normally undertaken on a part‐time, in‐service basis, either within the college itself, or at a neighbouring higher education institution. When the requirement for a teaching qualification was introduced, all remaining unqualified teachers within the sector were required to undertake in‐service training in order to gain their qualification, regardless of the length of their teaching experience.
The introduction of QTLS was presented at government policy level as a means of securing for further education teachers an equal status with teachers in schools. However, there remain two key obstacles to achieving parity of esteem between the two sectors. Firstly, teachers with QTLS are not deemed qualified to teach in schools, while schoolteachers with qualified teacher status are qualified to teach in the learning and skills sector; and, secondly, there is no parity in either pay or conditions between the two sectors.