The Prime Minister's policy unit has radical plans for improving college standards. Ian Nash reports
THE creation of super-lecturers is being considered by the Government in a bid to raise college standards.
Tony Blair's policy unit is investigating further education. Andrew Adonis, his education adviser, is meeting key groups in FE as part of a rationalisation of post-16 education and training.
Mr Adonis has stressed that the Prime Minister has no plans to undermine individual institutions' control of pay and conditions.
But concern mounts that the erosion of FE pay and the failure to tackle problems of professional development will scupper planned radical reforms.
Meetings are also planned between Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, senior civil servants and representatives of college management and unions. They will decide how to allocate pound;725 million from the Comprehensive Spending Review and expand student numbers by 700,000 over two years.
Ministers and civil servants have written to all leading FE staff and management organisations urging them "to consider the implications for the FE sector of the principles set out in (the schools Green Paper) Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change".
They were told: "Colleges will be expected to follow public-sector pay policy, by taking account of fairness, the need to recruit, retain and reward staff and affordability within the limits set by the CSR."
Appraisal, performance-related pay and the creation of superteachers are central to the schools Green Paper and ministers say colleges must consider them too.
The role of super-lecturers poses problems for colleges: How can the system be imposed without threatening autonomy? Who administers the system since the Further Education Funding Council is not involved in pay and conditions? Who would meet costs?
The notion of highly-paid top-flight lecturers remaining in college classrooms to act as mentors to younger and newer staff appeals to Labour.
In opposition Mr Blunket was critical that staff development cash had not declined but had been spent on low-level national vocational qualifications assessor training which failed to hone teaching skills.
Association of Colleges' managers said they were happy to talk about the creation of super-lecturers, but the funding issue remained. "Lecturers deserve rewards for good performance, better careers prospects," a spokewoman said.
"If it is possible to create environments to keep lecturers in the classroom, all the better. To an extent, the existing system does allow super-lecturer status. The pay structure is banded and performance through the bands is performance related."
But the cash crises through repeated efficiency drives had eroded pay.
Latest AOC figures showed that 62 per cent of colleges had paid the 1997-98 2.5 per cent pay award. So far this year only 53 per cent have paid the 2.7 per cent. One in six colleges (17 per cent) has paid no rise. Lecturers' pay had fallen 3.6 per cent on the Retail Price Index since incorporation.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE, saw no problems in creating super lecturers and said: "We need to reinstate senior lecturers as mentors to help less experienced staff and stop so many staff being marooned on low-level bands within the pay scales."
Sources close to the Government said: "If the super-lecturer role is created it will be in two years' time, after ministers have been able to assess effectiveness in schools."
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