At the eleventh hour, the Department for Education (DfE) announced a pay rise for schoolteachers of up to 3.5 per cent in September.
Staff in FE will have to wait, however, to find out how much will be in their pay packets next year. The process for setting pay in FE is separate from schoolteachers and is marked by a number of differences.
Pay for college staff is set through national pay negotiations. The Association of Colleges (AoC) represents its member colleges and the FE unions, University and College Union (UCU), NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite, represent staff.
System not scrapped after review
If an agreement is struck, it is then down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement it.
Following an internal review, which reported back in July last year, the AoC said decided not to scrap the pay negotiations system, which has been criticised by college principals, chief executives and trade unionists alike.
According to the UCU, staff in FE are now 24.7 per cent worse off compared with 2009 prices – even in colleges that have agreed to the AoC’s recommended pay increases since then.
School teachers will get up to 3.5 per cent extra
After much delay, it was announced on Monday that teachers will get a pay rise of up to 3.5 per cent depending on their level of seniority. The increase will cost £508 million over two years, but the extra money will not come from the Treasury.
The DfE has assumed schools have budgeted for a 1 per cent rise and it is understood the department will fund the difference.
Tes reported last month that the funding for teacher’s pay would either come from the Treasury, the DfE or schools themselves. However, the rise for school teachers from within the DfE's budget could make a rise for college staff funded by the Department – let alone the Treasury – less likely.
Pay rise 'inconceivable without extra funding
The unions have submitted a pay claim for a 5 per cent increase in wages, and a guaranteed minimum increase of £1,500 for the lowest paid staff, for the 2018-19 academic year.
After initial talks between the AoC and the unions earlier this month, AoC chief executive David Hughes said that colleges were keen to offer a “significant” rise for its staff – but this would be “inconceivable” without extra money from ministers.
Speaking after the announcement of a pay rise for school teachers, Mr Hughes said while it was great that school teachers will be getting a pay rise, the issues over recruitment and retention are “as big if not bigger in colleges.”
'Unacceptable' pay gap between schools and colleges
Mr Hughes added that the gap between what teachers get paid in schools and FE colleges, around £7,000 a year on average, is “unacceptable” and the pay award for school teachers would increase this further.
Without extra funding to increase pay, Mr Hughes said recruiting and retaining staff in shortage areas like STEM subjects, as well as bringing in T-level teaching staff, would be made more difficult.
The UCU welcomed the AoC’s willingness to campaign for more funding – but warned the body “cannot abdicate its own responsibility for improving staff pay”.
The union wrote to skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton earlier this month setting out the case for extra funding.
Timeline of the 2018/19 pay claim
11 May 2018: Unions accused the AoC of “playing silly games” after the membership organisation refused to begin discussing next year’s pay claim while local pay disputes for the previous year’s claim at some colleges were ongoing.
29 May 2018: Talks over next year’s pay deal got underway after the AoC agreed to come to the table.
1 June 2018: At the UCU FE national conference last month, delegates voted to ensure that its branches were poised to conduct strike ballots after the summer, should the AoC fail to make an “acceptable offer”.
27 June 2018: The unions representing college employees submitted their pay claim to the AoC, asking for a pay rise of 5 per cent or £1,500, whichever is greater.
13 July 2018: The AoC said colleges are prepared to offer a “substantial” pay rise for staff – but only if the government agrees to foot the bill.
24 July 2018: The DfE announced school teachers are set for a pay rise of up to 3.5 per cent from September.