Estelle Morris had pledged to narrow the pay gap for college lecturers and said she would announce the target in November. Unfortunately, she is no longer Education Secretary. Not to be beaten, Jane Davidson, the Welsh education minister, announced an extrapound;9 million for college lecturers and support staff, with the aim of securing a common pay scale with teachers by 2004. It is almost as though, after years of neglect, politicians in England and Wales are competing to see who can resolve the further education pay crisis first.
College staff, who have seen their pay fall behind that of teachers and other public-sector workers, but who do not seem to have the same media impact or public support as firefighters, will warmly welcome both announcements.
The Association for College Management has strongly supported the need to address low pay in FE. The association is unusual as a trades union in campaigning as hard for an increase in pay for those managed by our members as for our members themselves. College managers have to cope with the fallout caused by low pay: recruitment and retention difficulties, poorly-motivated and overworked staff constantly looking over their shoulders for the next merger that might threaten their jobs, all leading to poor learner performance. Proper funding and a well-paid and motivated workforce is required if the Government's ambitious targets are going to be achieved.
But something is missing from both announcements. There is no mention of managers. Once again it seems that managers will be made the scapegoat. In Wales the association has not been consulted on the detail of the proposals in the same ways as other TUC-affiliated unions have been. This appears to be based on an outdated political prejudice against managers and an appalling ignorance of the role that they play in improving the recruitment, retention and achievement of learners in colleges.
Inspection reports show the importance of management in FE colleges. Many managers carry heavy teaching workloads. Under-funding has forced colleges into mergers and restructuring exercises. Management posts are often the first to go but the workload does not reduce, merely increasing the burden on those managers who survive. Is it any wonder that the number of managers suffering stress-related illnesses is increasing so rapidly? They are often inadequately trained, appointed to management posts because they are good teachers and then not given the skills to do the job. When things go wrong, they are the first to be blamed. A poor inspection is almost always followed by the departure of senior managers.
College teachers and support workers deserve the imbalance in pay with other public-sector workers to be addressed, but the same applies to managers. Reducing the differential will only result in fewer college staff being prepared to take on managerial responsibilities.
The Association of Colleges' survey on recruitment and retention shows that there are as many management vacancies as there are for teaching and support workers. ACM's own research, carried out jointly with the General Federation of Trades Unions, indicates that managers could expect to earn up to pound;6,000 more doing comparable jobs in the private sector. And many are voting with their feet.
So the ACM's message to ministers is clear. Bring the pay of college staff back up to that of other parts of the public sector. Address the issue of low pay. But do not improve the position of one group at the expense of another.
Peter Pendle is general secretary of the Association for College Management