Tuesday will see the biggest strike experienced in Further Education colleges for over a decade as lecturers begin industrial action over pay. For a Labour government in the throws of election campaigning and whose battle cry as it began its first term was, 'Education, education, education' the timing cannot be seen as helpful. No doubt government ministers will be trying to keep the issue out of the headlines for Tuesday.
During the last eight years college lecturers pay levels have fallen behind, and comparing the pay rates of college lecturers with those of teachers makes interesting reading:
- Starting salary for college lecturer: under £14,000
- Starting salary for teacher: £17,500
- Average salary for college lecturer: £19,000
- Average salary for teacher: £24,000
In addition the majority of college lecturers do not enjoy the security that teachers enjoy in their employment, with over 60% of the UK's 100,000 college lecturers being employed on part-time contracts giving them an hourly rate of pay based on classroom time only. Additionally, many are employed on fixed term contracts lasting a semester or a term, forcing them at holiday periods to sign on to the benefit system. One college proudly told 'off the record' that they have 28 standard contracts of employment for lecturing staff. Many colleges employ lecturers through agencies resulting in those lecturing staff having fewer rights and benefits, and no agreement for personal development with the college where they are employed.
It should be remembered that FE colleges are the places where much of the country's labour is finally prepared for the world of work. Courses at colleges lead post-16 students into the workplace or higher education, and it is also worth remembering that lecturer pay comparisons with teachers are not the only ones to be made.
Bearing in mind that FE education may take a 16-year old into engineering, business or finance (or other occupations) a comparison with the average pay for an engineer or technologist at £30,044 or a business/financial professional on £35,089 highlights the low value placed on the college lecturer role by the current funding and colleges management system.
Have the demands on the FE sector and college lecturers changed all that much?
Well, since 1992 student numbers in the FE sector have increased by over 30%, average teaching hours have increased by over 12% and total working hours have increased by 25%. In addition, changes in post-16 education have seen the introduction of Curriculum 2000, reformed 'A' level qualifications, changeover from local TECs to the LSC, new vocational GCSEs, Modern Apprenticeships, New Deal and an increasing demand for greater emphasis in all courses for key skills and basic, literacy, numeracy and technology use. Additionally, all college lecturers are now required to gain recognised teaching qualification.
The last Government Comprehensive Spending Review for 2001/2 saw an allocation of £423 million to post-16 education a substantial increase on previous years, giving the colleges themselves an increased spending base from which to improve facilities.
The government has set aside £150 million for improving lecturers' pay, but has said that this must be linked to performance.
Teachers have settled their pay settlement this year at 3.7% (with an extra 6% for newly qualified teachers) whilst the public sector appears to be settling at around 3.5%.
Several colleges have already refused to settle at 3.3% for college lecturer's and the main union for college lecturers, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (natfhe) is now asking for an across the board increase of £3,000 for all full-time lecturers with part-timers' increases on a pro-rata basis.
Public employees union UNISON has so far held off from direct strike action for the 25,000 (mainly support) workers that it represents within the FE sector. In their demands for an across the board £1,000 payment or 7.5% (whichever is greater) talks with the Association of Colleges have broken down so far, but are due for resumption in June.
Learning support staff include : technicians, demonstrators, IT support, instructors, staff supporting students with additional educational needs, interpreters, basic skills tutors, librarians, information officers,
counsellors and outreach workers. Unison also point out that almost 60% of support staff earn less than £13,000 a year, 20% earn less than £10,000 per year and 90% work 37 or more hours a week.
HR Zone says: There is a major crisis within the Further and Higher Education sectors. Staff morale is reaching an all-time low and FE college lecturers are clearly being increasingly asked to adapt to change on an unprecedented scale whilst seeing their earnings decline in real terms year after year.
The reality of college lecturers being forced to sign on for welfare benefits during college holiday periods, whilst the students they teach are prepared for jobs that pay better than the lecturers themselves receive would be a farce if it was not so tragic.
The message from the employers and government whether intended or not is a clear one to FE lecturers:
You are not worth the same as a teacher;
Your professional skills are not highly valued;
Your input into the development of Further Education in the past 10 years can be ignored;
You can be squeezed further and be expected to do more with less.
The difficulty in recruiting professional lecturers, although difficult now, will worsen unless the crisis is addressed. The end result of inaction will be poor quality colleges offering a very narrow range of basic skills courses to those students rejected by a more selective private vocational training provider network.