Give us resources for training or face action, say delegates. Steve Hook reports
Lecturers have warned of a serious backlash and possible industrial action in colleges which sign up 14 to 16-year-old school pupils without the cash to train staff.
The anxiety caused by the expected influx of teenagers under initiatives to give 14 to 19-year-olds more choice became evident at the annual conference of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, in Blackpool at the weekend.
Delegates reported serious behavioural problems among students - often beyond the control of the college - with one delegate describing a disturbing change of atmosphere. When the under-16s arrive "it's like Grange Hill", she said.
Delegates complained that colleges were being used as a "dumping ground" for disaffected school pupils and called for urgent action to avoid the entire 14-19 initiative being reduced to yet another failed New Labour policy.
They echoed concerns expressed by Paul Mackney, Natfhe general secretary, who said in his conference speech: "This neo-Conservative government is doing things the Tories never dared to do."
Dan Taubman, national colleges official at Natfhe, has carried out extensive consultations with branches throughout England and Wales to assess their concerns over work with under-16s. In particular, he has focused on college link programmes, which give school pupils a taste of further education.
He told delegates: "There is incredibly varied practice on 14 to 19, some good and some poor. Some members are opposed to 14 to 16s in colleges, some are not.
"The issue is not just pay but also professional parity. We don't have the professional status. We are not members of the General Teaching Council."
Echoing the alarm raised by delegates, he said: "The biggest issues which have come to my attention are around behavioural problems."
Delegates drew-up a "shopping list" of concerns which they said must be resolved. These included special training, an agreement that 14-16 work will be voluntary, and support for extra duties such as providing pastoral care, medical issues and behaviour management.
There were further concerns about the breadth of the curriculum for children entering vocational education through FE. Young people often were committing themselves at an early age to a career path they might later regret, they said.
Concern was also expressed that girls were being channelled towards low-paid employment, such as care-related jobs.
Maureen O'Mara, incoming Natfhe president and an East Midlands delegate, said: "The choice of vocational qualifications is narrow. It is no surprise that women find themselves in employment sectors which have the lowest pay.
We need a broader curriculum."
Even those who welcomed the prospect of working with under-16s were concerned about whether they had the resources or the training to take them on.
Apart from being less well-paid than schoolteachers, lecturers said they needed training on how to deal with potentially disruptive children and legal advice on their new responsibilities.
Conference agreed to a further motion expressing concern that the 14-plus policy will be used as a solution to problem pupils in schools.