Further education brings out the sentimental side of all those touched by it. In my own case access to A levels at evening classes, while I worked during the day, fundamentally changed my life after I had royally screwed up at school.
I entered college going nowhere fast and left it on the way to university with grades the “old me” could never have dreamed of.
My horizons were opened by brilliant teachers of politics, history and economics. The debt I owe the staff of what was then the Brighton College of Technology (now Greater Brighton Metropolitan College) cannot be repaid.
I guess we all have our own story. However, as this sector has proved all too often, sentiment can only get you so far.
'A lightning bolt to other colleges'
In this time of crisis for FE what we need now is action and the 5 per cent pay increase offered by the Capital City College Group (CCCG) to over 1,700 staff should act as a lightning bolt to other colleges across England. Why?
Because CCCG recognised the depth of feeling among staff and made a real commitment to the people who do the work we all eulogise about.
Because CCCG recognised that leadership is sometimes about setting an example, not hiding in the crowd.
And because CCCG chose not to hide behind the government’s cuts and say “nothing can be done”.
'Cuts have been used as an alibi by colleges'
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) know all about the cuts. We have been campaigning against them for more than a decade – right back to when the then minister Alan Johnson justified the first round of adult cuts with the disingenuous proposal to fund “plumbing not Pilates”.
Since then more than a million learners have been lost. I suspect if I had been born at the wrong time I would have been one of them. Without another go at education, I have no idea what I would be doing now.
But too often the cuts have been used as an alibi by colleges who blame them for their inability to do anything to improve staff pay and conditions.
Is it really true that colleges can do nothing about workload? Nothing about the rising casualisation of the workforce? Nothing about the collapsing rates of pay of teachers relative to their colleagues in schools?
'Principals should follow example'
Those who give nothing, when they could work with the union to solve some of these problems, should expect to reap what they sow.
While CCCG is rightly being held up as an example of what can be achieved when the college works with us in pay and conditions, UCU members at CCCG took eight days of strike action this year to concentrate minds. Nobody wants to take strike action, but UCU members are tired of being taken for granted by the government and their colleges.
We are happy to work with colleges to campaign nationally for more funding but they must not use that lack of national investment as an excuse to avoid doing as much as they can to address serious local issues.
Now is the time for principals around the country to follow the example of CCCG and do better by their staff.
Matt Waddup is the head of policy and campaigns at the University and College Union