THE pay gap between teachers and lecturers is exposed as a myth, according to a new analysis of pay data released by the Association of Colleges this week.
"The average pay for a college lecturer in England is about pound;25,000. There is now no significant difference in the average levels of pay for lecturers and schoolteachers," says the AOC in a briefing to principals.
The research suggests that, in fact, lecturers were once ahead of teachers - an advantage that was lost in the 1990s. It has forced the AOC, which has highlighted an apparent 10 per cent gap for more than three years, to review its position.
"Historically, lecturers were paid some 7 per cent more than schoolteachers," says the briefing. "It is this differential in pay which has been eroded in the last few years."
The timing could not be worse for lecturers' union NATFHE as it meets this weekend to consider further industrial action in pursuit of a flat-rate pound;3,000 catch-up rise. The figures will also take the pressure off ministers who are being lobbied intensively by lecturers.
Paul Mackney, NATFHE general secretary, challenges the figures, which relate purely to full-time lecturers. "What they are doing is understating the problem. Research by the employers and unions shows full-time staff on around pound;22,500. Those on fractional contracts are on around pound;19,000 and those paid hourly are on pound;14,000."
John Brennan, AOC director of FE development, said the figures were from new Department for Education and Skills annual salary statistics. They included all full-time lecturers, including managers with some teaching responsibilities and compared directly with schoolteachers and managers.
David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC, told FE Focus this did not undermine the case for improved pay. "We want further improvements for all our staff, including support staff." He insisted that even without the gap, there was an argument for substantially more pay.
"These differentials have disappeared, leaving colleges in a very weak position as salaries are 20 per cent or more behind the private sector. We are failing to attract the necessary numbers. We are not getting the people with the relevant commercial and up-to-date skills. And, without them, we won't have quality training."
He insisted that the backing for better pay was unequivocal: "There is almost 100 per cent support in colleges for lecturers getting more money. My concern about the strike action is that it diverts attention."
Mr Mackney said: "The Association of Colleges has done the biggest disservice that has been done to the sector. It suggests to ministers that there is no problem. No matter how they try to wriggle out of it, it is there in black and white in the briefing that the average pay of lecturers, 'not just full-time lecturers', is pound;25,000."
Some AOC members agreed. One principal of a tertiary college said: "I do not recognise the description of my college in this briefing, nor will my staff. Nor indeed, I think, will many other AOC colleges."
The briefing accuses NATFHE of being wholly unrealistic in its demands:
"NATFHE made a unilateral demand for pound;3,000 for all lecturers, in so doing, breaking the agreement made with all our recognised unions in 2000 to respect the annual negotiation arrangements."