Unsung heroes come in from the cold

After years of under funding, the Government is loosening the purse strings
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The Independent Online

The pay of school teachers, and teacher shortages, are everyday news stories, as is increasing public awareness of low pay in universities. Schools have some seven million pupils, and universities about 1.6 million students. Yet the pay and recruitment problems in colleges remain undiscussed. Colleges teach four million students, including more 16- to 19-year-olds than have all schools put together.

The pay of school teachers, and teacher shortages, are everyday news stories, as is increasing public awareness of low pay in universities. Schools have some seven million pupils, and universities about 1.6 million students. Yet the pay and recruitment problems in colleges remain undiscussed. Colleges teach four million students, including more 16- to 19-year-olds than have all schools put together.

They are far and away the biggest providers of technician skills into the economy, and they also provide 40 per cent of younger people and adults going on to university. But the lecturer teaching Level 3 information technology (A-level equivalent) to a class of adults, or GCSEs or GNVQs to young people, at the college near you is on about £23,000. Inevitably, colleges are experiencing staff shortages as well as increasing disquiet among existing staff.

This government recognises the absolutely essential role of our 500 or so colleges in helping individuals and companies throughout the country to acquire the qualifications and skills they need. More money has been put into the general funding pot. All the same, the large majority of colleges are under very tight financial constraints, and while most have paid their staff the recommended 3.3 per cent pay increase negotiated nationally last year, not all of them have been able to afford to do so.

Unlike in schools, pay awards are not fully funded by government. Colleges have to find the money for extra pay from their own resources. Indeed, the sector still has a minority of colleges categorised by its own funding council as in "weak" financial health ­ the legacy of desperate underfunding and the excessive year-on-year efficiency squeezes that would not have been tolerated politically for schools or higher education.

Today sees the Government's announcement of funds for college lecturers' pay. The Teaching Pay Initiative (TPI) demands "something for something", but it is the first time that government has offered further education funds specifically earmarked for pay.

In return for £65m this year, £100m next year and £135m the year after, many college lecturers can expect a range of routes towards raising their earnings. These include rewards for obtaining appropriate academic, vocational and professional qualifications; for undertaking continuous professional development; for delivering high quality teaching and learning; and for learning innovation and leadership.

Funds will also be available to improve career structures for part-time staff and for outstanding lecturers who want to stay in teaching rather than move into management. TPI funds will be permanent. In addition there will be golden hellos and loan write offs to fight recruitment shortages.

Ministers in this Government have spoken publicly of their support for ensuring that our staff are properly rewarded. TPI does go some way to achieving this, and the Association of Colleges ­ which has been closely engaged with the Government, along with all the recognised unions, in developing the package ­ will strongly commend it to all our colleges. Many colleges have contacted us to ask how to implement the initiative. How each college will do this will depend on their local priorities, within national agreed guidelines.

This money will certainly reward staff for developing their professionalism, and it will help restore career structures. But there is some important unfinished business. We support the extension of the initiative to all staff, including support staff such as demonstrators and assistants. We also have to face the fact that colleges are still not out of the general financial problems resulting from years of chronic underfunding. We are committed to addressing the pay deficit that remains ­ in relation, for example, to school teachers' pay ­ even with this new money.

To do that, we shall be knocking on the Government's door again. Colleges are a hugely important part of the nation's well-being, but we will remain prey to dissent and low morale unless we can afford to pay our staff reasonably.

Colleges are still subject to a 1 per cent year-on-year efficiency squeeze, which continues to compromise our ability to make an annual pay award from our own resources.

It is time for the country to recognise that the health of your local college is every bit as important as the health of your local school, or your nearby university. In the meantime, this pay initiative is a great opportunity for colleges to help their teaching staff. We hope that they will seize it.

The writer is chief executive, Association of Colleges

education@independent.co.uk

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