The Department for Education has indicated that it will not stump up extra cash to fund a pay rise for college teachers and staff, despite promising to fund part of a pay rise for school teachers.
Last month, the government announced that school teachers will get a pay rise of between 1.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent, with the DfE funding a portion of that increase.
In a letter seen by Tes, skills minister Anne Milton said there would be no extra funding available for the further education sector before the next spending review, which is scheduled to take place in 2019.
Milton: Wait for 2019 spending review
Ms Milton added: “We are taking a wider look at the FE sector to make sure that it delivers the quality education we all want to see.
“There are many complex factors at play around the recruitment and retention of teachers. We are working with providers to better understand how we can help them to attract and retain excellent teachers and leaders, to deliver the best possible outcomes for learners.
“Schools and colleges have different workforces and requirements, and the way pay is determined in those sectors is quite separate. We want to make sure that there is an effective funding system for FE which can support sustainable, high-quality education. We are considering this as part of the upcoming spending review, scheduled to take place in 2019.”
'A lot of anger'
In July, the Association of Colleges (AoC) wrote to education secretary Damian Hinds urging him to “at least cover the costs of a 5 per cent pay deal over two years”.
The letter continued: “This exceptional funding, ring-fenced for pay, would allow college staff to receive a much-needed pay award ahead of the wider review.”
AoC chief executive David Hughes said Ms Milton's response was "very disappointing" and there was “a lot of anger" about the funding pay gap between schools and colleges.
He added: “Since we shared the letter with our members, lots of colleges have been in contact, saying we really need to make more noise and mobilise to make clear how important colleges are when the government clearly doesn’t understand just how important they are.
Colleges 'need to make more noise'
“As I have said to the department time and time again, colleges have had to deal with severe funding cuts over the last decade and have become really lean and efficient, but the impact on students is just unfair and has reached the point where colleges feel they are not able to do enough for students. The staff pay gap is also clearly unfair.
“We have made the case politely. We now need to shout about it we need to make more noise.
“We had some very constructive conversations with the government prior and after sending the letter and it looked to us like there was a good chance that the Department for Education would be in a position to support colleges to make a similar pay award to schools. But now, for whatever reason, that has not happened.
“We said before that colleges will struggle to agree to anything like the school teacher pay award without additional help, and additional help, we just found out, won’t be coming.”
'This does not let colleges off the hook'
In response to the letter, a University and College Union spokesperson said: "It is disappointing that the government is refusing to back further education and its staff by providing extra funds for a deserved pay increase. We will continue to work with the sector to lobby for fairer funding.
“However, this does not let colleges off the hook when it comes to staff pay. Our pay ballot opens this week because staff are fed up with excuses from colleges and government to hold down their pay. Colleges would have been foolish to rely solely on a plea to the government to meet staff pay expectations and must now find the money from elsewhere."
Last week, the UCU sent strike ballot notices to colleges that have not yet confirmed they will accept the 2018-19 pay claim.
Unions have submitted a pay claim of 5 per cent for the 2018-19 academic year, and a guaranteed minimum increase of £1,500 for the lowest paid staff, to the AoC. The threat of autumn strike action looms over colleges if the demands are not met.
Pay in FE is set through national negotiations between the AoC and unions representing FE staff: the UCU, the NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite. If an agreement is struck, it is then down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement it.
After initial talks between the AoC and the unions earlier this month, Mr Hughes said that colleges were keen to offer a “significant” rise for staff – but this would be “inconceivable” without extra money from ministers.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Further education is a very important part of the education sector offering invaluable opportunities to people of all ages. We have transformed technical education to put it on a par with the best systems in the world, with our new T Levels to be backed by an extra £500m a year. In addition, we have protected the base rate of funding for 16- to 19-year-olds and maintained the level of the Adult Education Budget since 2015-16.
“This is why the Minister made clear that whilst it is for individual colleges to set pay for their staff we are currently looking at funding for the sector, including the need to recruit and retain effective teachers."