THERE IS now a bewildering array of pay and conditions settlements in the 43 further education colleges (FE Focus, page 30), a picture in stark contrast to that in the schools, where uniformity still reigns. The Educational Institute of Scotland has no doubt which is the preferable regime, and it is encouraging the colleges to look again at the virtues of collective agreements.
It does so on the basis that college managements and staff must spend an unconscionable amount of time hammering at the minutiae. Settling such matters on a national basis, or at least in college groupings, would allow people to concentrate on teaching, learning and indeed income generation. The worsening of conditions for some lecturers and the disputes in colleges across the country are evidence to the union of shortcomings in the procedures that arose from incorporation five years ago.
Two-thirds of colleges have settled their pay claims for this year, but neither the managements in these places nor in those where disputes rumble (or ramble) on are likely to jump at the EIS initiative. Time consuming and fraught local bargaining may be, but it offers the opportunity to arrive at solutions suited to an individual college's conditions and aspirations. Often that amounts only to persuading staff of the need to cut the coat according to the Scottish Office's cloth.
The system, however, has not yet struck the right balance between flexibility and clear, accepted procedures.