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College sheds its tertiary label

Alton to make history again by reverting to sixth-form status in bid to stop confusing students. Steve Hook reports

THE first sixth-form college to convert itself to tertiary status in the rush for vocational students has decided to wind the clock back 20 years later.

Alton College in Hampshire will make history again by reverting to a sixth-form college, after being given the go-ahead by the Department for Education and Skills.

Michael Gray, the principal, told FE Focus the tertiary tag is confusing to prospective students and had become unnecessary because sixth-form colleges are now allowed to run vocational programmes without the change in status.

He said: "The term tertiary college is confusing to people, but people know what sixth-form college means. This way, families know they can come to Alton for sixth-form or to Highbury College in Portsmouth or Farnborough College for vocational. We work together with these colleges and even market each other's courses."

Alton College was founded as a purpose-built sixth form in 1978 and became the first to convert to tertiary without a merger in 1983, to attract vocational students. After the incorporation of colleges in 1993, it technically became a general further education institution. But it remains to be seen whether lecturers will get the full financial benefit of moving to the sixth-form college sector.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers supports the change in status but says the college must sign up to the Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum (SFCEF) negotiating framework. This would give lecturers a pay structure comparable to schoolteachers, including the chance to go for pound;2,000 professional standards payments if they have reached 0.9 on the pay scale.

There has been special funding to cover the threshold payments, but basic pay increases in sixth-form colleges, while traditionally more generous than in general FE, do not attract more Learning and Skills Council cash.

Mr Gray said he will do what is "in the best interests of Alton College" on pay. The change in designation does not mean the college has to join the SFCEF, he said, and it will be free to draw up its own policy on pay and conditions.

He stressed that Alton exceeded the Association of Colleges' pay recommendations over the past three years - the most recent rise being 3.5 per cent.

He said: "When we consulted the staff, they wanted time to think about contractual matters. But we want to pay staff the best rate we can afford.

The governors here are determined to squeeze out as much for staff pay as they can."

Gerald Imison, joint acting general secretary of the ATL, said: "Our view is that we like the sixth-form college system and we would expect to have the benefits in pay and conditions too.

"Sixth-form colleges have stuck together on pay and conditions and we would expect Alton to be part of that and to be part of the SFCEF."

Becoming a sixth-form college will allow Alton to attract staff who want to get newly-qualified teacher status before teaching in schools.

The SFCEF believes its position could be weakened if Alton chooses to go its own way on pay. Sue Witham, head of the SFCEF secretariat, said: "It would be worrying because at the moment our strength is that all sixth-form colleges are in it."

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