BUSINESSMEN have almost wrecked further education, Paul Mackney, leader of the lecturers' union, said this week.
"The Major government put them in charge and they brought in their pile 'em deep, teach 'em cheap philosophies, he told the Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton.
"Whilst students increased by 30 per cent, funds per student were cut by 30 per cent, 22,000 full-time lecturers were made redundant and replaced by part-time lecturers on the academic equivalent of burger-bar contracts," he said. He added that seven million people had no qualifications and 21 million had not had the chance to reach A-level or GNVQ level 3.
Calling for a one-off review of pay and staffing in further education, the NATFHE leader told the conference that some people thought virtual teaching could replace human beings. This, he said, was "the yo-yo and fo-fo method of teaching. Yo-yo means you're on your own. And, if you need help, it's fo-fo, which means F-off, you're on your own."
A call for the Government to help schools and colleges work together came from Judith Elderkin of the National Union of Teachers. There were once excellent links which enabled better post-16 education, but these were destroyed by the 1992 Higher Education Act, she said.
"The Act stopped co-ordination and introduced a compulsory market. Since then funding has been inadequate and erratic. But the Government now has a blank sheet of paper.
Education unions united in bitter condemnation of the proposal to allow Chris Woodhead's Office for Standards in Education to inspect colleges.
Ms Elderkin called it "allowing OFSTED to extend its tentacles into 16-19 education" while Mr Mackney said: "The idea that OFSTED will give the sector some coherence is ludicrous."
Mr Mackney hoped that the new minister for lifelong learning, Malcolm Wicks, would ensure the decision was changed. Mr Wicks chaired the House of Commons select committee which found considerable fault with OFSTED procedures.
Unions are also concerned at the proposal that employers should form the biggest single group on the new learning and skills council. The TUC will urge the Government to ensure what it calls "a balanced membership to include representation from trade unions and employers".
Delegates complained that Labour had not restored FE cuts by the Conservatives. The TUC also decided to support the National Union of Students' drive against undergraduate debt.