Editor's Comment

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Colleges can't have it both ways. If they lack the cash to pay better wages, how can they shell-out pound;100 million a year subsidising local schools? Both developments, reported in FE Focus this week, reveal deep contradictions within the funding arrangements for colleges.

Welsh colleges are able to close the pay gap with schools this year because their minister, Jane Davidson, earmarked the cash. There is no such offer on the table for English colleges. Lecturers in England will therefore look enviously at their Welsh counterparts.

The revelation from the Learning and Skills Development Agency that colleges are substantially out of pocket on the "increased flexibility"

courses they run for schools will add to their woes.

The vocational college schemes for 14 to 16-year-olds have been a tremendous success, boosting stay-on rates and raising achievement. But it has come at a financial and professional cost to colleges, as the report shows. Not only are colleges heavily subsidising schools, but schools themselves are using colleges as a "dumping ground" for pupils they can't control.

Therefore, underpaid lecturers - already with a genuine grievance - are being put-on even more. Since the cash for under-16s is a subsidy direct from the college, the money is being diverted from already cash-strapped adult education programmes. Which means FE staff are getting fewer of the learners they were trained to teach and more of those they are ill-prepared for.

The LSDA report finds much to praise. Both schools and colleges report better success and stay-on rates, the experience is being extended to higher-flying students who would not have previously considered vocational studies, and young people have better career ideas as well as confidence.

But the fact remains that, if the benefits of the increased flexibility programme are to be fully realised, there has to be more cash for colleges or schools have to pay their share. Or, maybe, principals should do what Sir Andrew Foster suggested in his report on the future of colleges and say: "No, we cannot oblige."

There is no doubt that college lecturers, management and support staff need better rewards - along the lines of those agreed for Wales. But this issue is about more than cash shortages.

The problem is also that colleges are too eager to satisfy other people's agendas. Until they learn to say no, they will never be taken as seriously as they would like to be.

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