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Editor's comment

In the free market of college jobs, you get what you pay for. That is the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from the latest Learning and Skills Development Agency research (see page 3).

"Golden hellos" were greeted initially with scepticism and derision when introduced into further education.

Why would plumbers shake hands on a pound;4,000 top-up to a lowly wage at the local tech when they can earn pound;70,000-a-year fixing tap washers?

But that high salary - like the latest press claim about the headteacher who scrapped homework - was a tabloid myth. The plumber scaling the salary heights while descaling your pipes also happens to be a self-employed business person who often sees more than half this cash disappear in overheads.

So, the extra pound;4,000 makes teaching reasonably attractive. The salary might not match the industry day rate. So what? And college principals we spoke to say the golden hello is justified, given the plumber's extra management skills, even if it means training from scratch to teach.

But, as lecturer and management unions and the employers agree, the creation of the golden hellos in some curriculum areas does not stop the exodus in others. Logic points inexorably to the need for "Golden Stay-ons" - "if we are worth keeping, pay us".

Few would disagree that the pay of lecturers, managers and support staff is too low, whether compared with the self-employed plumber or schoolteacher.

Ministers play Pontius Pilate, washing their hands while saying colleges are independent and should be trusted to get on with the job.

Principals welcome the independence and seek the trust, while accepting that the pay position is manifestly unjust.

But where is the money to come from? This is the question behind the comments from Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges (right).

Since the AoC cannot impose solutions and the Government will not, individual colleges must. After all, even if every college paid the 3 per cent rise this year, the bigger inequities would remain.

Without a radical solution or full and binding official review, colleges will see an ever-growing exodus, the solution to which will be an increasingly desperate use of golden hellos as colleges struggle to fend-off industrial action.

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