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Something to celebrate after all

Despite earlier setbacks, the year ended on a brighter note for FE lecturers looking for pay rises, writes Harvey McGavin.

A new millennium - and some college bosses could afford to celebrate as an FE Focus survey found that a dozen principals were on six-figure salaries.

Meanwhile, the unpaid post of governor was proving harder to fill - there was a 12 per cent vacancy rate and a third of all colleges had three or more empty chairs round the boardroom table.

The Learning and Skills Bill continued its course through the Commons and Lords, with earnest debate over minor clauses going into the early hours.

Discussions of a less serious kind were going on as FE Focus opened a book on who would head the new superquango. Early favourites David Melville and Chris Humphries vied with rank outsiders Jeffrey Archer and Victoria Beckham in our imaginations. Back in the real world, local government man John Harwood emerged to take the title in July.

In February, details began to emerge of Ofsted's plans for college inspections. "A dog's breakfast" exclaimed Tory education spokeswoman in the Lords, Baroness Blatch, denying suggestions that this could be a new grade for sub-standard catering provision.

Connexions, the service offering teenagers advice on jobs, health and everything else (but not spelling) was launched and the Government laid down its plans for foundation degrees, the two-year qualification for those with a vocation.

Chris Woodhead criticised the "moral authoritarianism" of those who tried to foist lifelong learning on people, saying it was a Utopian ideal. However, Utopians and idealists everywhere agreed it was one worth striving for.

Banks gave the cold shoulder to Individual Learning Accounts after balking at the administration costs, and "unviable" sixth forms were threatened with closure under the Bill. But the Government showed its benevolent side by extending Educational Maintenance Allowances after a successful pilot.

In April, Chris Humphries, chairman of the Government-appointed skills task force, declared there was a problem with demand for learning, a view confirmed the following week when new figures showed a slight fall in college enrolments. Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks put it bluntly, saying the UK's workforce was in "no fit state" to compete internationally.

Leaf, the breakaway trade union that had campaigned for a return to pre-incorporation terms and conditions, lost its epic legal encounter with college employers but vowed to fight on, and immediately lodged an appeal.

With learndirect and the University for Industry booting up their online operations, and distance learning spreading via the Web, the TUC called for Internet access for all. This was too late for some lecturers who, it was claimed, were missing online teaching opportunities because of a lack of IT training.

In the year when millionaires were 10-a-penny, education department officials intent on joining them would need some serious sart-up capital - we discovered the domain name for sale at $60,000.

The Learning and Skills Council would have a slimmed-down, simplified funding system - good news for the 60 colleges still in poor financial health, many of them struggling with the famously complex methodology of the funding council. Further Education Funding Council chief executive David Melville was to admit in November it was the biggest weakness of the council.

The Association of Colleges threw out the pound;2,500 flat rate pay demand of lecturers' union NATFHE, whose members must have cast an envious eye over news that tutors in some private colleges were earning pound;25 an hour.

June saw Malcolm Wicks on the charm offensive at NATFHE's annual conference in Blackpool, defusing lecturers' planned protests with a well-received speech and unscheduled question-and-answer session. The seaside theme continued into the following week when he accused mid-ranking colleges of "coasting".

It was a summer of major appointments, with BP's Bryan Sanderson taking the chair of the Learning and Skills Council, and Vauxhall Motors chairman Nick Reilly taking the same job at the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Meanwhile, Knowsley College's George Sweeney had an appointment with the Queen, as he became the first college principal to be knighted.

A 9 per cent rise in further education funding came just as the first area-wide post-16 inspections - of Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Newcastle and Coventry - revealed how much it was needed.

Scots continued to show their enormous enthusiasm for education - staying-on rates increased by 50 per cent over 10 years - but south of the border GNVQs proved less enticing: year-on-year enrolments for the advanced version slipped by 10 per cent.

Even though they run only one in five colleges, women principals were bucking pay trends, earning slightly more than their male counterparts for the first time.

As the local learning and skills councils emerged with many training and enterprise council staff in tow, wags were calling it a TEC-over. More seriously, the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education, noted that just one national council member and three out of 47 local chairs came from ethnic minorities.

At the party conferences, Labour courted the FE vote with a pound;150m boost for basic skills over three years; the Liberal Democrats wanted to scrap the New Deal and merge FE with HE; while Conservative spokeswoman Theresa May managed to mention FE - twice - in her speech.

In his final report in November, FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson said that, despite improvements, the gap between the best and worst colleges was still too wide. At Natfhe, differentials in pay were the priority, with half the country's colleges stalling on the annual pay rise agreed in August. Christmas passed with scrooge employers still refusing to cough up, but with the pound;50m earmarked for lecturers' pay still to share out, it could yet be a (relatively) prosperous New Year.

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