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Editor's comment

Is the national pay deal for lecturers dead? Natfhe bemoans the failure of government to fulfil an ever more remote pledge to close the pay gap between lecturers and schoolteachers. Meanwhile, college principals increasingly tell FE Focus any national agreement between the Association of Colleges and the unions is too costly.

Yet again, lecturers are planning a mass protest at the AoC conference in Birmingham in November. And, with little prospect of any significant new cash for the next three years, this year's protest will certainly not be the last.

In the 12 years since colleges left local education authority control war over pay rather than peace has been the norm. On a couple of occasions, ministers have announced enough new cash to bring a short-lasting peace but this always proves fragile.

Colleges in dribs and drabs reach local settlements. A strike at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college this week was suspended for lecturers to consider a last-minute offer of a new salary structure. But colleges remain either reluctant or unable to pay, as is witnessed by the fact that 65 per cent of colleges in England - while struggling with a new pay round - have still to pay last year's supposedly "national" settlement in full.

As growing numbers of schools seek a route out of national pay and conditions - aided by Tony Blair's push for academies and specialist schools - the chance of any truly national wage structure for colleges looks most unlikely.

But lecturers who were promised a new deal under New Labour have a right to an explanation if not a fulfilment of that pledge. Further education has been the most scrutinised education and training sector in the land. Sir Andrew Foster's current scrutiny is just the latest in a very long line.

The only thing in FE that has never been the subject of a national inquiry is pay. It has been in schools, universities, the civil service and other walks of public life - but not in colleges. Such commissions and inquiries - for obvious reasons - fell out of favour with ministers in the years before incorporation.

It is time someone gave proper thought to taking an impartial, independent look at the state of pay and employment in the sector. Has any interest group - staff, employers, government - anything to fear from such an inquiry?

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