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Cinderella sector faces even fewer peanuts

Bearing in mind the current debate over the quality of teachers, Sir Ron Dearing, in his forthcoming review of 16-19 qualifications, might like to address the quality implications of the ever-widening salary and conditions disparity between teachers and their FE counterparts.

As with the compulsory sector, most FE staff are basic grade practitioners, but unlike their colleagues in school, they work longer hours, (across a potential six-day, 12-hour day attendance range) and have approximately half the holidays. These may be disincentives enough to enter this sector, but they pale into insignificance alongside the salary implications.

Under the latest review, most entrants to the compulsory sector will commence on slightly more than Pounds 14,000, with inexorable incremental progression to the top of their scale (in addition to any cost of living rises achieved by their very real industrial muscle).

A glance at the recruitment section of your FE Focus demonstrates the effect of contractual deregulation within FE. The salary ranges quoted not only vary significantly between colleges - from under Pounds 12,000 to around Pounds 22,000 - but are, without exception, negotiable to a fixed point. The suspicion lingers that the higher ranges are accurate only in the sense that they are enjoyed by those who have transferred from the top of their "silver-book" contracts. New entrants, however, must rely upon the individual negotiation and appraisal to drive up their salary.

Market forces should, in theory, enable colleges to recruit the best through the freedom to pay whatever they choose, but that market is imperfectly constrained by governmental cash limits which consistently favour the more politically sensitive school sector, and while FE salaries are for the majority, effectively frozen or falling, they will no doubt, continue to rise, albeit slowly, for those in schools.

If 16-19 qualifications are rationalised and ever more schools are encouraged into post-16 provision, staff will gravitate towards the pay, conditions and security of that sector and FE, traditionally the Cinderella of the education system, will find itself even more negatively stereotyped. The increasing number of FE posts being re-advertised seems to confirm this trend, and with salaries and their determinant pensions following this current pattern, the historical ability of colleges to recruit and retain experienced vocational staff from industry and commerce, particularly to service HE programmes, must be open to question. Peanuts and monkeys are the words that spring to mind.

JOHN POWNER

Broad View

Spout Lane

Light Oaks, Stoke-on-Trent

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