So few expected to do so much for so little

17th July 2009 at 01:00

The loss of 1,300 lecturers out of around 150,000 further education teachers in England and Wales may not sound much until one remembers that a typical college has around 250 lecturing staff. In which case, if the University and College Union's figures (page 35) are accurate, the current round of redundancies amounts to sacking the entire teaching staff of five colleges.

Putting it another way, it works out at just over three members of staff for each of the 380-plus colleges in England and Wales. This sounds less drastic until one remembers that the UCU survey found that only 55 colleges - about one in seven of the total number in England and Wales - were laying off teaching staff. As Barry Lovejoy, the UCU's head of FE said, this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Redundancies are always hard to swallow, especially at the levels currently seen across the sector. But they are particularly distasteful when further education is being asked to deliver so much with so little.

Tony Egginton, mayor of Mansfield, here articulates a sense of hurt and betrayal felt in the wake of the announcements over capital funding. For along with the shameful collapse of our national college building programme, highlighted by the innovation, universities and skills select committee this week (page 33), comes the dashed hopes, opportunities and employment chances of millions of people.

Then there is the growing crisis over Train to Gain funding. The most common reason cited for job cuts in the UCU survey is the loss of funding, including Train to Gain.

Just eight months ago John Denham, then skills secretary, told college leaders: "Now, more than ever, investment in the role of colleges is hugely important." He implored them to engage fully with Train to Gain. Well, they and other learning providers did, and look where it has got them.

Lord Mandelson, Mr Denham's successor as skills secretary, this week delivered a far bleaker message about the need for greater efficiency in the public sector.

In the face of this, college leaders are forced to do what they think best for their institutions, students and staff in the longer term. They must continue to do this in consultation with staff locally.

Any of the pressures mentioned above would be considered serious enough on their own. Together they amount to appalling treatment of the FE system.

Alan Thomson, FE Focus Editor


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