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New perspectives on college pay

Matters of pay, when discussed in further education colleges, bring out a wide range of perspectives, some objective, others with spurious slants, but all with a passion from the advocate that theirs is the legitimate one.

At times, views move towards convergence, for example, about the effects of the 16-19 funding gap between schools and colleges and the implications that gap has for retaining good staff.

The Government's view is that FE should be left to manage its own pay affairs. This is a major part of the trust that it put into its relationship with colleges. Such trust is at the heart of the maturing, independent sector.

The Government has, in the main, upheld this perspective, which is in line with colleges' desire to manage their own affairs within complex local environments. Nobody believes the old arrangements are in the interests of existing learners or widening participation, but governments of whatever kind cannot afford to relinquish their responsibility for the conditions which influence matters of pay. Any government, but particularly the current one, must recognise that ever-growing performance expectations require policy and resource frameworks consistent with their "on-the-ground" consequences.

This Government's determination to raise standards in FE is evident in policy frameworks and some of the necessary resources, such as Success for All and the Teaching Pay Initiative.

Colleges, for their part, have tried to keep pace on pay with schools and the wider labour market. To say that they have been successful is not entirely borne out by the 15 per cent staff turnover within the sector.

This is an expensive waste for institutions endeavouring to meet exacting targets. More importantly, it will eventually affect students, if talented and motivated staff increasingly vote with their pockets.

Staff are heavily reliant on decision-making at their own institution. Most see the correlation between the financial stability of their college and its ability to pay. From a union perspective there is a determination to get the best possible deal for staff given the financial circumstances. It is this combination of perspectives which informs national negotiations between employers and unions.

Both sides received the same strong representation from their constituencies. College pay needed increasing and the status quo was not an option.

Too many new policy strands are affecting people's jobs. New roles are demanded which existing structures are not capable of embracing. Career progression has been unclear and good teachers have been inadequately rewarded. Support staff have felt like the poor relation. New staff are not progressing fast enough.

Every employer, public and private, must adjust to a competitive labour market. The Association of Colleges and the harder unions have begun to modernise in order to counterbalance the impact of market forces and produce a pay framework which tackles some of these issues.

There was nervousness on the part of FE employers about affordability.

However, this autumn, most colleges have made significant progress.

Decisions have been made, deals struck and the overwhelming majority of colleges have committed to implement the 3 per cent pay increase recommendation. Discussions of the other features of modernisation are in progress.

Major reforms take longer to realise than some would like. It is therefore disappointing that the lecturers union, Natfhe, intends to co-ordinate a national day of action in February. Conflict will not deliver the convergence that we need and is an outdated response which flies in the face of the progress that is being made.

It is tempting in the circumstances for parties to entrench their positions and prevent further progress but, surely, a convergence of views can be reached which continues to press government for the right financial conditions in which to operate but which also recognises that convergence of perspectives is better than conflict.

It appears that for some, that will be a bigger change of perspective than is comfortable.

Sue Dutton is deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges

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