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Exams at risk as strike drags on

Thousands of students at Southwark College in south London face disruption and may risk failing their exams because of the continuing indefinite strike by lecturers. Revision courses for GCSE students have not been held,marks for coursework have not been submitted to exam boards, and portfolios have not been assessed because of the strike, now in its sixth week.

The increasingly bitter dispute is one of a number across the country to be discussed at NATFHE's annual conference, which opens tomorrow. Eight major disputes in London, and a few outside, are either threatened or ballotted. All revolve around pay and conditions.

Steven Rose, chair of the Southwark College NATFHE co-ordinating committee, said: "It is a disaster. Thousands of students are suffering. We have been attempting to resolve this dispute but management are only interested in making inflammatory moves."

Dorothy Jones, the principal, said the college had been able to secure some extensions for coursework from examining bodies.

"But I do not deny that because some of the lecturers are on strike, those facing external exams now or after Whitsun have not had the benefit of the last weeks of revision with their teachers. I deeply regret that. I have urged people to come back to work so we can talk about it."

A clash over a #163;1.5m cuts package started the indefinite strike. NATFHE says it has suggested a number of compromise solutions but dismissal letters were sent out while talks were going on. Seven senior lecturers were dismissed and re-engaged on new contracts. One turned down re-engagement. Mr Rose said they were given less than one working day to sign before the dismissals became final. He added that the majority supporting the strike had increased. The union had offered to go to ACAS, the arbitration service.

Ms Jones said staff had been offered jobs or redeployment. The one person who had declined had turned down an eight per cent pay rise. She said the college was committed to good employment practice and would be willing to talk to ACAS.

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