Give us the money and do it now

1st December 2000 at 00:00
More talk of performance pay is wrong, says Dr Jefny Ashcroft IN July, the Chancellor earmarked pound;50 million for FE lecturers' pay. Then, last week, Education Secretary David Blunkett announced there would be more to follow. However, in the light of the (highly problematic) stringsattached, this largesse now has the potential to become FE's poisoned chalice.

How much precisely is being dangled in front of lecturers is unclear. Is it another pound;50m or even pound;100m extra? Last week no one seemed absolutely sure. Whatever the eventual amount, it has, of course, to cover hundreds of FE colleges, and is not as generous as the minister may flatter himself. And it has to stretch even further: several million is to be skimmed off for sixth-form colleges.

Another share-out issue is that all the unions who deal with the Association of Colleges, in particular public service union Unison (which has members teaching on instructor grades), would like to get a cut too. Understandable, as their members are on miserable pay.

This approach infuriates lecturers. While they have no quarrel with teachers, they are tired of waiting for a genuine catch-up element in their pay after years of trailing school salaries - currently by at least 8 per cent.

The final insult is the spirit in which this money will be given. Since incorporation, lecturers' workloads have risen greatly without financial reward. Yet Blunkett is again trotting out mantra of "something for something".

For God's sake, minister, wake up. Lecturers have given "something" over and over until it hurts.

As well as increased hours in the classroom, the volume of work outside direct teaching has ballooned to perhaps five times the amount expected a decade ago. What is needed to raise morale is a public recognition that FE lecturers have been through hell professionally and that they all deserve the money, and now.

However, when lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks addressed NATFHE's May conference, he uttered (to everyone's dismay - even, just perceptibly, general secretary Paul Mackney's) the unwelcome words "performance-related pay".

Subsequently, Mr Blunkett let it be known that he realised the "schools model" of PRP might not be "exactly right" for FE, but he talked of rewarding "high-

calibre" lecturers. Such an approach has traditionally been seen as divsive by NATFHE.

Mr Mackney has stated that NATFHE would "continue to make clear its objections to performance-related pay". What Mr Mackney did not say is that, until recently, he seemed prepared to talk to the Government about distributing the money, in a sense, within their terms.

Many on the union's left think that the money must be distributed to all lecturers, ideally even part-timers and agency staff. Any selective criterion used must inevitably be discriminatory and therefore tantamount to accepting the PRP principle. Suggesting a criterion therefore risks setting a precedent.

The issue which Mr Mackney appeared willing to discuss with the Department for Education and Employment was rewarding staff with teaching qualifications.

This seems a reasonable aim for future pay and conditions negotiations. If adopted now, however, as the criterion for the awarding of extra cash, it would exclude many lecturers who aren't formally qualified.

Pursuing this path could lead to allegations of unfairness. It also encourages the Government's mean-minded approach to pay.

As if to confirm this, at Harrogate, Mr Blunkett stressed yet again the need for a trade-off between extra funds and redoubled lecturer effort.

The time to go for additional cash for gaining teaching qualifications would be after the extra money has been dispersed, but before the push to implement Further Education National Training Organisation standards really gets underway. What better way of helping to get a professionally-trained workforce than to reward them for achieving FENTO standards? But that should come after part of the debt owed to FE has been honoured.

I understand that the general secretary is now backtracking on the teacher qualification issue. The problem, however, is that the Government isn't yet budging

on PRP. Why has Mr Blunkett announced that future additional money must be earned by further raising teaching standards? That sounds a lot like PRP to me.

A final nightmarish possibility is that individual colleges might be given the money and told to disburse it as they see fit. This would further compromise the equitable set of national standards which NATFHE wants to see developed.

So go on, Mr Blunkett, give every lecturer the money. They all deserve it.

Dr Jefney Ashcroft is a former lecturer

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