'Lead and direct' FE into the future
FURTHER education is in crisis. So-called efficiency gains, declining relative salaries, and attacks on teachers' and lecturers' professionalism, have resulted in morale falling to an all-time low.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) believes that urgent action is essential to reverse this decline. Short term, money must be found for pay. Lecturers have, within just a few years, moved from being ahead of schoolteachers in the pay league to being significantly behind. The recent salaries initiative is the equivalent of applying a sticking plaster to an open wound.
To rebuild confidence within FE we need a dose of the much-touted "joined-up thinking" on policy and its implementation.
Incorporation helped governments abdicate responsibility for FE's well-being and hide behind other bodies. The next incumbent of Downing Street must accept that a funding crisis exists. Ministers must accept that "efficiency gains" imposed over the past few years are merely a euphemism for "funding cuts" and bring them to an end.
The next government must reconsider its involvement with post-16 education at the most fundamental level. It must question whether incorporation is really working.
Current arrangements allow learning needs of students to be unduly influeced by the employment and economic needs of the country. ATL wants the Government to work with all the partners in the service to recreate a vision of FE which embraces all the state providers and students, regardless of social position, economic need or place of learning. The Government must lead and direct not simply fund this vision.
The creation of 47 local learning and skills councils provides an opportunity, but the next government must ensure that sufficient resources are equitably allocated. This will require a critical review of the new arrangements. That review must cover the state of industrial relations in colleges. The variation of quality in practices adopted by different employers must cease. Standardisation is essential if staff are to be motivated.
There must be fully-funded opportunities for all staff to get qualified lecturer status with proper self-regulation thereafter. Lecturers deserve parity of status with their school-based colleagues.
The Government must begin to implement the conclusions of the National Skills Task Force, in partnership with the profession, to create a broad, balanced, coherent and flexible curriculum for all 16 to 19-year-olds.
The new government will only succeed if pre-election rhetoric is matched by active involvement in the crucial issues over coming months.