UNIONS hope the appointment of Charles Clarke will increase the momentum towards achieving a lecturers' pay settlement.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, has written to Estelle Morris's replacement asking for an early resolution to the dispute, which has led members to vote for strike action in November.
It comes after the Welsh education minister, Jane Davidson, pledged to bridge the12 per cent pay gap between further education lecturers and schoolteachers, putting pressure on the Department for Education and Skills to follow suit in England.
Natfhe hopes the appointment will provide fresh impetus for a deal as it prepares for strike action this month. Mr Mackney said: "Charles Clarke has an opportunity to make an immediate impact and a lasting impression by resolving the crisis in further education at a stroke. I am willing to meet with him immediately to resolve this dispute on the basis of a formula like that adopted in Wales."
The Welsh Asse-mbly has announced a package of pay increases for lecturers which will give them parity with schoolteachers in 2004.
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "Estelle Morris was good for education and we got a good Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, but I would question how good she was for further education. We never quite got to the top of her list of priorities. We look forward to working with Charles Clarke. It is good to have a heavyweight in the job. I think he is a man who will have the ear of Number 10 and someone who will be very robust."
Gerald Imison, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We hope he will bring to the post the same commitment to education and to teachers that Estelle Morris displayed. He must understand that education is the nation's future and not a political football to be kicked about by career-minded politicians."
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "The AoC warmly welcomes Charles Clarke's appointment. We look forward to working with him in the near future to ensure students and lecturers in local FE colleges have the resources and support they require. Charles Clarke has long shown a great interest in the work done in colleges.
"The AoC regrets that Estelle Morris felt it necessary and appropriate to resign.
"I am quite certain we could not have had a secretary of state who was more committed to the welfare of our young people. I thank her for all she was able to do, not least by increasing the percentage of the GDP dedicated to education."
Reg Chapman, principal of Blackpool and the Fylde College, said: "My main hope for colleges is that he brings with him a listening style. Success for All is a real challenge to us all and we need to work with the department together."
And there was a word from the college where Mr Clarke once taught. "We are delighted that Charles Clarke has progressed from part-time maths tutor at City Lit to Secretary of State for Education in 20 years," said the college's principal, Margaret Davey.