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pound;1,000 bonus for 180 leaves a kind of hush

LECTURERS are growing used to praise in the drive to increase staff morale - but it is not often that a principal's kind words are backed by a cash bonanza.

At South Downs College in Hampshire, however, 180 full-time teaching staff will receive a one-off pound;1,000 payment along with a thank-you note from college principal Michael Oakes praising them for their work.

Mr Oakes broke the news during a staff meeting last Monday, leaving many stunned.

"When I announced the bonus there was a hush," he said. "Then a few smiles, and then there was applause - at which point I exited stage left. I wanted to make an impact. A figure like that, to any lecturer, is going to make a difference to them and their families. It's a significant amount in one fell swoop."

As one beneficiary of Mr Oakes' goodwill said: "I rather suspect people were too shocked at the time to take it all in."

Mr Oakes is at pains to emphasise that his one-off payment does not reward teaching but is more recognition of the extra responsibilities lecturers carry alongside their usual teaching duties.

The windfall also has as much to do with sound financial management as it does with generosity, he admits: "I wouldn't have done it if I couldn't afford it." The college has no debts and, since leaving the local education authority, back in 1993, pound;5 million has been spent on upgrading college buildings. Staff are also regularly given above-average pay increases. This year, lecturers received an 8.1 per cent salary increase.

Staff have not backed industrial action for 10 years.

But union leaders were more cautious. While welcoming the move, Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, said a broader system of elevating pay for staff in FE colleges was urgently needed.

He said: "It's in no way to begrudge staff their pound;1,000 bonus but we need to end the capricious and chaotic method of pay in FE and replace it with a system of national pay bargaining."

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