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'Historic reform' as LSC is launched

But lecturers' union rejects Government's latest pay offer. Ngaio Crequer reports

IN the precincts of London's Southwark Cathedral, a reconstruction that celebrates the mix of the traditional crafts of stonemasonry and today's more hi-tech skills, the new Learning and Skills Council was formally launched this week.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, said the council, which will be responsible for the funding and planning of all post-16 learning, outside the universities, was a "major and historic reform that will provide the platform for achieving the vision of a learning society".

The council will receive pound;6.4 billion for 2003-04, a real terms increase of 5 per cent over the previous year. Chairman Bryan Sanderson said that involvement in the council by the businesses was "enlightened self-interest", because more and better training would push the UK higher up the productivity league table.

Its first decision is to offer free "bite-size" courses throughout the country to attract up to 50,000 adults back into learning.

The one and two-hour courses will be on offer during the summer in pubs, churches, shops or "wherever you feel most comfortable", said Malcolm Wicks, the lifelong learning minister. At the same time the Government made its most important and long-awaited announcement on lecturers' pay, at a time when it is faced with possible industrial action by NATFHE, the lecturers' union, which would give the new council an inauspicious beginning.

There will be pound;65 million in 2001-02, pound;100 million in 2002-03 and pound;135 million in 2003-04, for rewarding good teaching and developing new career structures.

By 2003-4 most teachers in FE and sixthform colleges will qualify for increases in salary of up to pound;2,000. And those who are promoted to a new principal lecturer grade will receive a further pound;4,000 on average. There will be "golden hellos" for teachers in shortage subjects and pilots will be introduced for the paying off of student loans.

Mr Blunkett said he hoped that the additional resources would help employers and unions to reach agreement on pay and enable them "to move quickly to the rewards we are offering in schools, so there will be comparability".

Malcolm Wicks told FE Focus that the new package was an attempt to move towards comparisons with schools. "There are comparisons in another sense. I am concerned that the good FE teacher can carry on teaching and that this is recognised."

However, NATFHE said the extra pay was welcome, but still not enough. "This will do little to end the disparity between schoolteachers and lecturers' pay. Extra cash for schoolteachers has amounted to an aditional 8 per cent on schools' paybill. FE lecturers, whose pay is at least 7 per cent behind that of teachers, will get only an additional 2.6 per cent on the pay bill this year," said Paul Mackney, general secretary.

The union is still pursuing its pay claim for a pound;3,000 flat-rate increase for all lecturers. It will ballot its members for industrial action, including a one-day strike on May 22.

The Association of Colleges, however, backed Mr Blunkett and said colleges were being offered an increase in money available for teachers' pay of over 8 per cent by 2003-04. "This is the first time since 1993 that a government has put any money into the sector for pay," said Dave Gibson, chief executive.

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