Pay dispute opens up college divisions

9th February 2001 at 00:00
Principals split over Government's pay proposals. Francis Beckett reports

A SERIOUS split is opening up between colleges on the question of lecturers' pay.

This comes in the wake of last week's Association of Colleges' meeting about how to allocate the extra money the Government is offering - pound;50 million this year and pound;100m next year.

On one side is a determined group which regard the low level of lecturers' pay as the most pressing problem facing the sector, and whose thinking is now close to that of the lecturers' union NATFHE. Lewisham College principal Ruth Silver was applauded in some sections of the room when she told the meeting:

"I am ashamed at how badly teachers are paid in colleges. The Government has got so many things right about further education - would it not be ironic if it sabotaged its whole dream by not treating teachers fairly?" Several delegates said that they would be taking the battle next to a meeting of the FE Futures, a fringe group of colleges, later this month.

But they feared that many principals were not taking the pay issues seriously, as only half the colleges were represented and, of those, only a quarter were represented by the principal. Most of the rest of the delegates were human resources directors. Absentees included such notable hard liners as Tony Pitcher, head of South East Essex College of Arts and Technology. He and others believe that lecturers are not particularly badly paid.

Mr Pitcher said last week that proposals discussed at the meeting for ensuring that performance pay was not given out as favouritism were bureaucratic and a way of disempowering managers. Anther of the absentees said the delegates at the conference were "a group of conspirators."

Helen Gilchrist of Bury College, a member of the AOC board, said that the money was nothing like enough. However it was divided up, when it was spread across all the colleges, the effect on each individual college's staff would be minimal. Ms Gilchrist note that delegates agreed the money was totally inadequate. No alternative figure was discussed, but AOC chief David Gibson, after the meeting, suggested a figure of pound;200m.

There were also complaints that the AOC seemed to be asking: do you want to spend the available money on retaining existing teachers or recruiting new ones? The real answer, they believe, is that there needs to be much more money.

Higher Education Minister Baroness Blackstone, standing in for Lifelong Learning Minister Malcolm Wicks, told the principals they had to move forward and resolve the pay issue with the unions. FE, she said, is a central plank of government policy and there must be no obstacles to it delivering the Government's agenda. It had put more money into the sector than ever before.

After the meeting, Derby Wilmorton principal David Croll said: "Baroness Blackstone delivered a clear message that FE has a central role in the social and economic development of the country, and it is imperative that we should all work together with a collective vision for the sector."

However, Ms Silver said: "I will be urging all my colleague principals to get behind a real wage and proper respect for teachers in colleges."

David Gibson viewpoint, 32 Have your say on pay:

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