College lecturers are demanding guarantees from the three main political parties that they will close the funding gap with schools if they win the General Election on May 5. Adequate pay and resources, with the time and freedom to teach, uncluttered by bureaucracy, emerge as the key issues for lecturers in a Readers' Manifesto compiled by The TES.
More than 1,300 teachers, lecturers and managers in schools and colleges throughout the UK responded to an appeal to make three wishes in their ideal manifesto for education.
The results reveal further education is overwhelmed by red tape and paperwork, with inadequate resources to do the job. Seething resentment runs deep, with staff at all levels criticising the Government for repeatedly failing to raise pay and resources to match levels in schools.
Paul Perigoe, a departmental head at Westminster Kingsway college, echoed the sentiments of most in condemning "the disgraceful resourcing inequality where teachers can earn 10 per cent-plus more than lecturers while leaving their difficult 14 to 16-year-olds in FE".
Lack of cash was also cheating students of a fair share of resources, said respondents. Jim Judges, a lecturer at Sutton Coldfield college, said:
"Fund my FE students the same as in school sixth forms - they are doing the same courses."
Examples of wishes expressed in The TES Readers' Manifesto will be sent to the three major political parties. The strongest issues will also be used as a yardstick to measure the commitment of the new political administration to education after the election.
Staff were asked to make three wishes - one for the students, one for their institution and one for themselves. Lecturers' wishes for their students focused strongly on the shortage of cash for adult learning and the pile of paperwork that was limiting the amount of individual attention lecturers could give. Most lecturers made appeals for students with English language problems, particularly immigrants, adults with inadequate skills and under-achieving school leavers.
Jacqueline Young, a teacher at Waltham Forest college, wished for an FE system in which "the emphasis is less on teaching to pass exams and more on teaching the language and skills they need to live in this country".
Complaints about a system dominated by tests were very common. Julie Blake, vice-principal of Park college in Eastbourne, East Sussex, asked that students should "be liberated from the tyranny of perpetual assessment to discover the joys of learning".
Wishes for institutional change focused overwhelmingly on more flexibility, a better curriculum entitlement, based on need rather that the cash available, and better teaching facilities.
The state of college buildings came in for much criticism, so the Learning and Skills Council chief executive's recent pledge to carry out a five-year college refurbishment and rebuilding programme will be particularly welcome.
When making wishes for themselves, college staff at all levels called for an easing of the paperwork burden, time to think and space to work creatively and flexibly. A better quality of life in FE was one of the most common personal wishes. John Morgan, a department head at Yale college, Wrexham, wants "a better balance between work and life, with a salary that reflects the level of experience and training necessary to provide high-quality learning for my students". The Readers' Manifesto also reveals high levels of stress among all staff. One lecturer even suggested introducing US-style stress counselling.
There was also considerable anger over constant press and media denigration of college performance, which went unchallenged by politicians.
Despite government claims of record investment in FE since 1997, the manifesto suggests this was either inadequate - falling well short of school budget increases - or that it was spent on the wrong things.