THE Association of Colleges has, over the past three years, highlighted the increasing gap between staff pay in colleges and that in schools and other parts of the public and private sectors.
Discrepancies have grown because of the Government's policy of improving the attractiveness of school teaching addressing that professions recruitment and retention issues by increasing pay within a buoyant labour market. The association wholeheartedly supports such a policy.
Ministers have recognised the knock-on effect that its schools policy has for teachers in colleges. It has committed serious money to address it, in the Teachers' Pay Initiative (TPI). The pound;50 million available this year, which grows to pound;100m next year and is linked to the Standards Fund, presents us with an opportunity to tackle some of the structural pay issues for the first time.
Staff engaged in teaching stand to benefit in three ways. First, they should have access over the next two years, according to each college's priorities and within national guidelines, to about pound;800-pound;1,000, where they can show they possess the appropriate qualifications andor evidence of continuing professional development.
Second, about the same amount will be available where individuals or teams can demonstrate their contribution to raising standards and supporting others.
Third, there is the introduction of the advanced lecturer pay grade, which will recognise advanced practitioners, for example, those who take a lead responsibility for curriculum development and innovation. The AOC believes that the majority of college teaching staff will find this a very attractive offer. It helps to address relativity with schools' pay and structurally will offer improvements not only for full-timers but also in the role and pay o part-timers, particularly those who are hourly-paid.
However, at its consultation conference on pay last Friday, attended by more than 350 members of the association, the strongest message coming through was about overall levels of pay for teaching staff.
Members heard AOC research confirming that the average pay of a full-time lecturer is between pound;22-24,000. Current low rewards are discouraging experienced lecturers within the sector and inhibiting recruitment from the outside.
While the new Teachers' Pay Initiative was certainly welcomed, it would cause an element of rationing over the next two years, and more fundamentally, it did not address the problem of continuing underfunding of the sector, which causes many colleges real difficulty in sustaining adequate pay and other rewards for their staff.
Whether for teachers, support staff or managers, it remains the case that the bulk of the Government's funding increases outside TPI are linked to college performance and will therefore not be available to support general college expenditure.
Consequently, it is likely that the improvements in the ability of colleges to match national pay recommendations will come through more slowly than the overall improvement in the sector funding position might suggest.
At least 70 colleges were still in financial category C (the weakest) as of November 2000. The association is working with the unions and government to find the best way forward.
We want a solution to the whole pay agenda which will ensure that all staff in colleges are properly rewarded for their contribution to national upskilling. We believe that the Government has set out in the spending review a funding envelope which will enable us to do this, but we need to unwrap this, specifically by loosening the strings around the current allocations, including the Standards Fund itself.
David Gibson is chief executive of the Association of Colleges