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FE Focus;Conference;National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education

Francis Beckett reports from the conference of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education

For the first time since Mrs Thatcher walked into 10 Downing Street, the lecturers' union, genuinely believes it can change things.

Some 300 delegates gathered in Eastbourne's Congress Theatre at the weekend for the NATFHE annual conference.

The biggest concerns included what general secretary Paul Mackney called the "cull" of lecturers. They also included the practice of turning full-time lecturers into part-timers; their relationship with the employers represented by the Association of Colleges, with the rival Association of University Teachers; and the treatment of lecturers in individual colleges such as Cricklade College in Hampshire (see story right).

The Government's New Deal was harshly criticised, and there was a debate on how to protect those lecturers who still, on principle, refuse to give up their old "silver book" contracts and have sacrificed their pay rises each year as a result.

NATFHE's new structure, allowing greater autonomy for its further education and higher education sections, meant that for about a third of the weekend conference, FE and HE members debated in separate issues in separate rooms.

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