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Celebrate, but maybe not for long

With a new deal, life is looking rosier for recently qualified lecturers and support staff. But while the lower-paid in the sector may have cause to rejoice, the rest are a long way from parity with schools

UNION members are expected to vote in favour of the new pay deal but celebrations are likely to be short-lived.

The prospect of an pound;18,500 starting salary for all qualified lecturers is a major boost to the lowest-paid, but those higher up the career ladder are still a long way from parity with school teachers.

If the offer is approved unions and employers will form a working party that will investigate how to close the pay gap.

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "One of the consequences of last year's action was to get money from the Government.

"Our task now is to draw a line under the 2002 dispute and ensure new negotiations help to end the injustice of unequal pay.

"Ultimately, we want to commit employers to a national pay scale which applies to every college. For too long, we have been haemorrhaging staff to schools, sixth forms and industry.

"We must now bring the top end of the scale to the same level as teachers and provide a pay structure that will commit people to a career in college teaching."

Mr Mackney said the next step is to work out how much of the extra pound;1.2 billion for FE announced by Education Secretary Charles Clarke last year is available for salaries. Natfhe would like to see at least 70 per cent of this cash allocated to narrowing the pay gap. "We do not want the money to be frittered away on more pointless gimmicks and bureaucracy."

The Association of Colleges is keen to take advantage of the extra funding to resolve the pay issue, according to Ivor Jones, its director of employment policy. He said: "We aim to use the spending review money to get salary levels that will attract new people into FE and then keep them there.

"First, the working party will have to look at the true value of the funding announcement - not the headline figure, but how much extra money will actually end up in the hands of each college.

"Then we can identify what we can afford to spend on wages within the current spending review. It is not just a case of matching teachers'

salaries. Those will always be changing. We need to come up with a pay system that is appropriate to FE."

* The FEFocus Fair Pay campaign has three objectives: parity between lecturers and schoolteachers, modernisation of management and support staff scales and more cash from government to meet the shortfall.

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