Teachers at two London sixth-form colleges resumed strike action this week in protest at slashed funding and deteriorating working conditions.
Fifty teachers from Leyton Sixth Form and City and Islington colleges are to join forces once again this week as they take their action, albeit with different complaints, to the House of Commons.
Yesterday's protest came just days before a Commons debate on further education funding. Monday's debate will focus on the parliamentary select committee report on further education, the Hodge report, which was published on June 4. Committee members are now waiting for a government response.
The report recommends that funding for sixth-form colleges be put on the same footing as school sixth forms and that the harmonisation be achieved by additional funding for the FE sector, not a levelling down.
But there is growing dissent among sixth-form college teachers, who have seen their salaries rise less than their counterparts in school sixth forms.
Roger Green, science teacher and National Union of Teachers' representative at City and Islington, said: "In the past few years, sixth-form student intake nationally has risen by 43 per cent while our staff recruitment has only risen by 0.7 per cent. We have also suffered annual cuts of #163;180,000 in the past three years, making our working conditions very tough. And every year we face the threat of redundancy."
NUT members at the college voted 98 per cent in favour of sporadic strike action in the coming months. Tom Jupp, City and Islington's principal, while not supporting the strike action, has said he supports the sentiments of a letter that NUT members gave to David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, last week.
The letter asked Mr Blunkett to restore funding to the ailing sector, pointing out that the situation is afflicting all sixth-form colleges and ultimately determines how much educational support students receive.
At Leyton College, in east London, a two-day strike this week was the fifth action in protest against the management's determination to draw up new contracts for sixth-form teachers.
Ron Haycock, general secretary of Waltham Forest NUT, said: "Teachers have been told to sign these new maverick contracts or have been threatened with redundancy. But the new contracts ask for an extra one or two weeks' work and some have been asked to take a pay cut.
"The management is trying to introduce an FE environment into the sixth-form college."
The NUT has comparatively few post-16 members and the sector has had a low profile at past conferences. This year, however, the NUT executive passed a motion to address the crisis in sixth-form funding.
Tim Harrison, the union's east London secretary, said: "Sixth-form colleges will have had five straight years of reduced grants. The national contract is one of the few protections that teachers have against this."
While Mr Harrison is aware of other colleges cutting pay as they restructure, he does not know of any others breaking contracts.
The NUT blames the crisis on colleges becoming independent six years ago, creating a market in post-16 education that has led to job insecurity and reduced grants.
Mr Green believes City and Islington is a valuable sixth-form college because of its excellent A-level results. He said: "We have a 98 per cent pass rate in English, but the teachers' workload has risen by 4.5 hours a week, and now they're asking us to work for less money. This is of course Tony Blair's former backyard."