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Colleges braced for strike action

Sixth-form lecturers demand rise to match schools. Steve Hook and Nic Barnard report.

SIXTH-form colleges are on the brink of industrial action if lecturers' pay falls further behind that of schoolteachers.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers this week demanded a pound;2,500 flat-rate pay rise to restore earnings, threatening a ballot for action if they received less than teachers' 3.7 per cent.

With further education college lecturers having already set a date for a strike, subject to ballot, the prospect is looming of industrial action across the FE sector.

"We cannot carry on year after year seeing further and further erosion of pay and conditions for FE lecturers. It's time we hardened our line," delegates were told by Chris Wilson, chair of the ATL's advisory committee and a lecturer at Cambridge Regional College.

The union says some lecturers are paid up to 35 per cent less than schoolteachers. Its members had already fulfilled their side of the Government's "something for something" position, said Steve Bolter, of Braintree College, Essex, with "an increase in contact hours, larger student groups, more courses to teach with fewer taught hours per course, more required of students, more materials and more marking."

He said ministers have given nothing in return.

The Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum says negotiations with the Government over introducing a pay structure for their employees which is in line with schools have been bogged down in detail. It is now unlikely, says the SFCEF, that the issue will be resolved in time for the next pay review, due to take effect on September 1.

David Blunkett, the Education Secreary, has been told in writing by Sister Dorothy Bell, the SFCEF's chair, that "there remain problems connected with a new pay structure more consistent with schools." The letter adds: "We shall need to return to this in the not-too-distant future in order to ensure that we are able to retain the good staff on which the quality of teaching depends.

"Members of governing bodies are concerned that those who have helped to produce such centres of excellence, many involved in widening participation, should be rewarded."

Sixth-form colleges have been given pound;11 million for the professional standards payment, the sector's equivalent to performance-related pay for schoolteachers, but, says the SFCEF, this still leaves many lecturers needing increases of pound;3,000 to catch up.

"We don't want to appear ungrateful for the pound;11m," said Sue Witham, the SFCEF's head of secretariat, "but this still leaves the wider issue of a pay structure unresolved and it is frustrating that we now look as though we have missed the opportunity to sort it out for this year."

She has written to Stephen Hillier, head of the Department for Education and Employment's FE funding division, calling for a meeting to discuss the pay structure.

In her letter, she said the pound;11m "does not leave sixth-form colleges with any money available at all for altering our pay structure and offering a fully-competitive package".

She warned the pound;11m may not even be sufficient to fund the professional standards payment, claiming the Government has underestimated the number of staff who are likely to qualify. The SFCEF says the proportion who qualify is likely to be higher than in schools.

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