Compulsory training for further education lecturers is at the centre of a radical package of measures to increase professionalism in colleges unveiled by Labour as its pitch for the college vote.
The shadow education minister Bryan Davies promised compulsory qualifications for new lecturers, more in-service training, national pay bargaining, a review of part-timers, and a seat for further education on the proposed General Teaching Council.
The lecturers' union NATFHE welcomed the proposals, which go much of the way towards meeting their demands.
The Association of Colleges, whose chief executive Roger Ward was the architect of the current bargaining regime, said it was opposed to a compulsory pay review body.
Mr Davies said he could not promise colleges more cash, but countered with a raft of proposals to capitalise on pressure for greater teacher training and improved standards across the educational world, while appealing to demoralised rank-and-file lecturers by promoting their status as professionals.
He launched what was effectively Labour's manifesto for colleges at the Further Education Development Agency's Spotlight conference in London, the last opportunity before the general election for the three political parties to address FE leaders directly.
Proposals include: * targets for accreditation of new FE lecturers. Those who do not have a teaching qualification on entry would have to obtain one within a fixed time limit * training in key skills for lecturers * a review of staffing, focusing on the role of part-timers. Mr Davies said: "I cannot promise new resources for colleges, but I am concerned that we address the situation if the increasing employment of part-time staff is leading to a decline of standards" * national bargaining for pay and conditions. Mr Davies said he wanted "an end to conflict, localised fragmentation and disruption", but there would be no return to the Silver Book * FE lecturers to be incorporated into the proposed General Teaching Council, a move that would align FE teachers with the school sector * new emphasis on management training.
Mr Davies said the Government lacked a clear policy for lecturers. "The strategic importance of FE colleges to the future economic and social prosperity of Britain requires government to address this policy deficit, " he said.
"The standards of teaching in further education, as well as the professional standing of FE lecturers, must be lifted if the sector is to play its full part in national renewal. Labour believes a coherent rationalised framework for the recruitment, induction and professional development of further education teaching staff is needed."
NATFHE's general secretary, John Akker, said: "We welcome the general thrust of Labour's approach recognising the professional contribution that FE lecturers are making, and look forward to exploring with the Labour Party the practical issues that arise." Mr Davies paid tribute to the work of a new staff development forum, which last week established a group to draw up a set of standards for teaching that could form the basis for a new teaching qualification.
FEDA's head of institutional development, Sue Brownlow, secretary of the new group, said: "It could be the basis for a qualification. The standard spells out what the sector means by good teaching. Whether or not that leads to a qualification is for the future."
AOC chief executive Roger Ward gave a broad welcome to many of the proposals. But he said the association was worried about a return to imposed pay settlements.
"We would be opposed to a pay review body, although if they are prepared to pick up the bill, we would look at it," he said.
* Bryan Davies faces a battle with the Tory defector Alan Howarth for the Labour seat of Newport East later this month. Mr Davies' Oldham Central and Royton seat will disappear at the general election.