Further education staff should get a pay rise of 1 per cent or £250 – whichever is greater – in 2020-21, the Association of Colleges has recommended.
In a statement published today, the AoC said it was “disappointing and regrettable that the sector is unable to afford a better offer at this time”, and that they “strongly advise that those colleges who can afford to award staff more should do so”. The AoC represents employers in college pay negotiations, but its recommendations are not binding.
The AoC acknowledged some colleges might not be able to meet the recommendation, and said the organisation was in “full agreement” with trade unions that pay had fallen significantly because of government underfunding – but that sector's financial pressures “remain considerable”.
The statement said: “Despite tough and challenging circumstances, we would have hoped to have been able to offer a better pay recommendation – but the ongoing precarious situation caused by the pandemic means this is not possible in the current year.”
FE staff pay: Why teachers need a pay rise
In July, Tes reported that the gap in pay between FE staff and their primary and secondary counterparts had risen to £9,000. David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said: “Every college leader wants staff to be paid fairly and adequately for the work they do. Covid has shown how committed and hard-working college staff are and leaders are just as committed to campaigning for better college funding. Better funding would allow those longstanding pay issues in our sector to be addressed. A decade of neglect and funding cuts have devastated the financial health of the sector.
"As clearly stated by so many recent reports, including the Commission for the College of the Future, there does need to be serious government investment to allow pay to catch up. In the short term, we are still pressing the government to deal with current exceptional costs due to the pandemic and student number growth. I want us to continue to campaign with the unions to make this case because together our voice is stronger.”
In a joint pay claim submitted in October, the UCU, UNISON, NEU, Unite and GMB unions made clear that they believed college staff had suffered a real-terms pay cut of 30 per cent since 2009 with over 24,000 teaching staff leaving the sector. They said colleges had seen a significant £224 million increase in base-rate funding, but it was not clear what employers spent this on instead of investing in staff.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “After years of campaigning and marching alongside the AoC and college leaders for extra funding, further education staff will rightly be outraged that the AoC’s pay offer is again just 1 per cent. The joint campaigning was always on the understanding that staff pay would come first.
“Yet again, colleges have shown they cannot be trusted to spend public funds in the way they were intended. The £224 million increase in base-rate funding was meant to give colleges the ability to prioritise staff pay. Only an independent investigation into where the missing millions have gone will give us the full transparency required. UCU members will now find it hard to believe that the AoC can be a trusted partner for joint campaigning. To rebuild that trust the AoC must publicly sign up to proposals that will close the gap of over £7000 between FE lecturer pay and school teachers.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “FE staff have suffered some of the worst pay cuts against inflation year after year. After contributing so much to keeping colleges open in response to the coronavirus crisis, they face another devastating real-terms cut to their pay. FE staff are the sector's most precious resource and improvements in pay must be the priority for colleges.”
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “College leaders had made clear promises that staff would get a substantial pay rise this year. But they’ve simply ripped these up and raided the wage pot to foot the bill for the pandemic. Pay in the FE sector is simply too low and this offer yet again ignores the value of college staff.”
GMB national officer Stuart Fegan said: “College staff have been on the frontline in supporting communities during our efforts to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. What has been offered by the AoC amounts to a real-terms pay cut, which our members will only be deeply disappointed and angry to receive. We call on the AoC to have a long hard think on how much they value brave, hard-working college staff.”
Unite national officer for further education Siobhan Endean said: “The paltry pay offer is adding insult to injury after a decade of pay austerity and we call on the Association of Colleges to return to the negotiating table for realistic talks to address the pay issue that has bedevilled the sector for far too long and led to thousands of staff leaving further education for better-paid work elsewhere.”