THE split between sixth-form colleges and further education institutions widened this week as performance-related pay makes its first inroads into the sector.
Unions and employers agreed a 3.5 per cent pay deal for sixth-form college teachers, effective from September 2001, to include an element similar to the extra pound;2,000 awarded to teachers who pass the performance threshold.
But one union negotitiator said the deal could divide post-16 education partners. Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said sixth-form colleges would move closer to schools, and might return to local authority control.
He predicted sixth-form colleges would take advantage of the Learning and Skills Bill which allows new bodies to be set up to educate 16 to 19-year olds. He said they could be financed in a similar way to the former grant-maintained schools and would enjoy as much freedom as at present.
"Sixth-form colleges have a separate sort of identity. They have preserved their ethos. Our argument is why not rationalise it and bring sixth-form colleges back into the LEA sector."
He said such a move would ensure parity with pay in schools and stop staff being lured to switch to schools for the extra cash. "Employers are beginning to see a drift from sixth forms to schools,reversing the trend of many years. If nothing is done that trickle will become a flood."
Sue Witham, of the Sixth Form College Employers Forum, admitted that issues of pay and other developments such as allowing teachers' induction in sixth-form colleges were "moving us closer to schools and increasing the gap between us and FE colleges".
But she said sixth-form colleges were in no hurry to give up their incoporated status. "There will be developments (in the Learning and Skills Bill) that sixth-form colleges will welcome. But going back under LEA control, that's yesterday's debate." She said that the pay offer was an acknowledgement that sixth-form colleges had to compete with schools for staff, but said the final deal - which still needs to be ratified by the National Union of Teachers - would vary from the school teachers' threshold payments.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union NATFHE, reiterated his opposition to performance-related pay in general FE colleges, saying it was unworkable.
"Look at colleges, look at the range of subjects, the range of teachers. The idea that you can take the system from schools and transpose it to colleges is nonsense," he said.
NATFHE members will next week formally accept the 3.3 per cent offer of the Association of Colleges despite a knife-edge ballot of branches which voted by 50 per cent to 48 per cent in favour - the first time since 1994 that they have accepted a pay offer.
The deal also includes agreements to abolish the bottom two points on the salary scale, bringing it into line with the starting pay for school teachers.