Just rewards in sight after the bitterness

8th December 2000 at 00:00
The battle to improve the pay and status of FE lecturers is making headway, says Paul Mackney of NATFHE.

THE lecturers' pay initiative represents something of a victory in NATFHE's campaign for cash earmarked for salaries. It could start to bridge the gap with schools and deal with historic injustices.

In July David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, told us that, as part of his commitment to raising standards, pound;50 million would be available for FE lecturers, matching pro rata the sum made available for schools on a "something-for-something" basis.

Performance-related pay was not mentioned but arrangements would have to "reward high-calibre teachers". There was recognition that FE was different from schools.

A new Department for Education and Employment pay team was established. We soon introduced it to the sorry state of FE pay and detailed injustices such as the excessive use of temporary contracts; low-paid, part-time lecturers; arbitrary and unequal pay-banding; the lack of career structure; sporadic pay freezes; and the denial of employment rights to agency staff.

NATFHE argued that the best single way to raise standards is through higher-quality staffing, with qualified lecturers on permanent contracts who can see the advantages of a career in FE. It also recognised that non-teaching staff pay has fallen behind.

Some of the message must have struck home. Blunkett has admitted that in the 1990s "the status and standards of FE teaching were completely neglected. Not surprisingly, morale among FE teachers hit rock bottom and it lost much of its attraction as a teaching sector."

Recognising that college staff have "borne the brunt of the distorted priorities of the past" he called for "improvements to colleges' employment practices, particularly their deployment of part-time, casual and agency staff".

In November, the pound;50m for salaries was increased to pound;100m with a promise of more. Alongside this, the FE Standards Fund was boosted from pound;80m to pound;160m to pound;170m year on year.

NATFHE's national executive could see the danger of PRP lurking behind phrases about rewarding high-calibre lecturers. But it agreed to continue its involvement, alongside other unions, in the consultations with the Association of Colleges and the DFEE.

Any form of PRP is an irrelevance. It does not adress the main problems of FE, would be divisive and overlay an existing system of unfairness. It wouldn't work anyway. Part-timers could not be excluded; yet only a few dozen of the estimated 70-100,000 hourly-paid or agency lecturers are covered by appraisal systems.

Some human resource managers are developing their own PRP schemes. They usually involve a diversion of yet more cash away from the classroom in a discriminatory way that will attract both resistance and litigation.

As Blunkett said, FE lecturers have shown greater productivity increases than in any other area of the public sector. In return they have seen an unprecedented decline in their pay and conditions.

Lecturers have real worries that "something for something" could mean "something for some - and little or nothing for the rest". The money should be used to fund a catch-up for all lecturers for the "something" already given.

Although it is unlikely that the Government will pay over all the money for services already rendered, we were sure our members would not thank us if we stood on the sidelines while the cash was divided up. We want an end to employment practices that simply engender bitterness.

Colleges need to:

* give everyone a catch-up element to recognise past efforts;

* enhance the role and contracts of part-timers;

* reward teaching qualifications and continuous professional development;

* re-motivate lecturers by creating a new senior scale which provides a clear career path for those wishing to remain on a teaching grade, and perhaps some reward for people taking leading roles in college initiatives or mentoring schemes;

* fulfil equal pay obligations by redressing pay-banding and other anomalies;

* consolidate all payments in increments; and

* agree a pay policy plan with the unions at local level.

We need to work for a system of national pay scales and conditions of service so Government can cost the staffing implications of its education and training initiatives. Above all, we must avoid the danger of the extra money paradoxically worsening staff morale and destroying successful teamwork.

We hope when we meet Malcolm Wicks, minister for lifelong learning, on Tuesday that we can persuade him to get it right.

Paul Mackney is general secretary of NATFHE

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