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Striking lecturers censured

The students' leader at strike-torn Southwark College this week attacked the nine-week stoppage which could disrupt the exams and assessments of thousands.

Peter Clauzelma accused striking lecturers of intimidating students on the picket line and holding back coursework vital to revision.

He said students no longer cared about the details of the dispute and appealed to management and unions to resume negotiations and restore normality.

The dispute over a #163;1.5 million cuts package has been described by lecturers' union NATFHE as a "test case for the national struggle against attacks on jobs".

Lecturers held out for a ninth week after talks ended in stalemate. As The TES went to press there was no end to the deadlock in sight, even though just two issues separate the two sides.

Remaining sticking points are the fate of senior lecturer Chris Ryan who has refused to take up a new post as a programme manager, and college plans to pilot the use of controversial lecturers agency ELS.

Governors confirmed Mr Ryan's dismissal after an appeal this week. Management offered binding arbitration at talks with the conciliation service ACAS last week, an offer rejected by strikers from NATFHE.

Mr Clauzelma, currently finishing a general national vocational qualification course in health and social care, said the damage to the popular college would be severe.

"Southwark is one of the best colleges in London for the local community," he said. "At the moment it's bottom of the list. I would travel to the end of the world to go to a college without strikes."

He said students had were not consulted about the form of strike action and were suffering. "If you do not take the views of the students into consideration how can you support them?

"The lecturers are intimidating lots of students to side with them. There are some lecturers saying that they have an obligation to the students and the students have an obligation to them. Really the students have an obligation to themselves. "

Mr Clauzelma said there was sympathy for the lecturers' position, but not for their tactics and the decision to maintain an all-out strike during exam time.

"The fight is between the lecturers and the management. All I hope is that they do not take things into next year."

Principal Dorothy Jones insisted managers had made major concessions and accused NATFHE of taking up an amnesty so they could return students' coursework to help with revision. She attacked the strikers claiming they stepped up pickets to coincide with a heavy day of exams last week.

NATFHE in turn was angered by Ms Jones' decision to bring in staff from a local agency.

Ms Jones said there was no further room for concession and placed the ball firmly in the union's court. She said about half the college's staff were working normally, all its sites were open and exams were running as normal.

She said: "Staff are working terribly hard to try and help students. Committed teachers ought not to be on strike at this stage - they ought to be in college.

"We have demonstrated that we have tried to be constructive. This is not something done by a principal and a group of governors. We have all the managers in the college on board."

The managers' union, the Association of College Management, has already moved to support its members' stance in support of the Southwark management and has attacked NATFHE tactics.

NATFHE national negotiator Sue Berryman and the union's vice-president elect Moira Carr were meeting college management as The TES went to press.

Ms Berryman said: "Our national intervention is being taken seriously and we are very serious about it. We will do everything in our power to solve this dispute."

Leaders of the branch accepted that there was room for a face-saving formula to resolve the two points of dispute - but insisted that ELS could not be brought in to replace permanent full-timers.

Branch chairman Steven Rose strenuously denied that students had been intimidated, although he said they had been asked to support the NATFHE action. He claimed support for a large proportion of students.

He said: "We want to disrupt students' education as little as possible given that we are on strike. There has been no intimidation whatsoever. That's an outrageous allegation."

He insisted that staff would not work while on strike, but had offered to run extra classes when the dispute ended, something he said could happen as soon as a settlement was reached.

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