Workforce data reveals FE’s ‘scandalous’ pay gap

17th June 2016 at 00:00
Female and ethnic minority staff earn less and are less likely to be in top jobs

A major new study has uncovered evidence of a “gender and ethnicity-related pay gap” in colleges, TES can reveal.

According to the annual workforce data reports, published today by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), female and ethnic minority non-teaching staff earn significantly less on average than their male and white British colleagues.

The new series of reports, written by Frontier Economics for the ETF, also show that the college workforce shrank by almost 3 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Further analysis of data from the Skills Funding Agency suggests that overall staff numbers in colleges dropped by 9 per cent over a three-year period. This equates to the loss of 12,000 full-time posts, and lays bare the impact of funding cuts on FE colleges across England (see “Workforce decline” box, right).

The newly published information – based on staff individualised record (SIR) data at the third of colleges that took part in the study – also suggests that pay levels rose by £1,000 between 2013-14 and 2014-15 (see “Pay variations” box, right). However the average teaching salary (£29,100) remains significantly below the equivalent figure for schoolteachers for the same year (£37,400).

While the report on colleges finds no evidence of a gender or ethnicity pay gap among teachers, worrying patterns emerge in relation to non-teaching staff.

‘Thought-provoking’ findings

Female employees earned about £1,700 per year less than their male peers in 2014-15, while ethnic minority employees were paid about £1,000 less than white British staff. This is largely a result of the variation in the “other managers” category (made up of staff in management roles but not in senior management teams). Among this group, ethnic minority staff were paid about £5,600 less per year than their white British counterparts.

“Further, women and ethnic minorities are less likely to be in senior positions than men and white British staff respectively,” the report adds. However, it concludes that there is “no evidence” that gender or ethnicity affects career progression in the sector.

ETF chief executive David Russell said that the findings were “thought-provoking”, adding: “One only need compare principals and CEOs with their learners to see that the senior leadership of our sector overall does not yet reflect the people we serve.

“As a sector, we need to consider these data with other research, and take stronger action to protect and promote equality and diversity in recruitment, promotion and retention.”

Jon Richards, head of education at support staff union Unison, said: “This research makes for rather depressing reading. More than 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act, it’s scandalous that in so many colleges – just as in other parts of the economy – women workers are earning substantially less than their male colleagues when they are doing remarkably similar jobs.

“Similarly, the fact that so few employees from ethnic backgrounds ever make senior positions in FE suggests the sector still has a long way to do before it can ever claim to be truly representative of the diverse communities from which its students come.”

Shakira Martin, vice-president for FE at the NUS students’ union, said: “It is unacceptable that in 2016 if you are a woman or BME [black and minority ethnic], you continue to be paid less than men or white British staff in the FE workforce. It is also unacceptable that women and black staff continue to be shut out from senior positions.”

Ms Martin said that FE institutions had to do more to eliminate pay gaps and lead the way in promoting equality and diversity, adding: “When such inequalities exist, how can we encourage future educators from multiple backgrounds to consider this as a career?”

Rajinder Mann, former chief executive of the recently dissolved Network for Black and Asian Professionals (NBAP), said that it was “alarming to see in print that discrepancies between black and white staff pay still exist”.

“We had anecdotal evidence from black staff that this was an issue but didn’t have the evidence,” she added. “So it is good that the ETF has conducted this research and identified the issue. The question is, how is this going to addressed by the sector given there is no longer a representative body for BME staff since the closure of the NBAP?”

According to the report, about 85 per cent of the current workforce in the FE sector is white British – rising to 91 per cent among managers. About one in 20 staff members is Asian, with 4 per cent classed as black and 4 per cent as “white other”.

Karen Sanders, director of employment services and policy at the Association of Colleges, said that the FE sector was careful to ensure parity of pay and conditions for male and female staff doing the same jobs.

“We are not aware of any evidence that female employees are paid less than male employees for carrying out exactly the same role. However, if data for different roles is not appropriately grouped, this may suggest an imbalance in pay levels,” she added.


Pay variations

In 2014-15, the median pay for full-time FE staff in England was £26,000-£26,999 – £1,000 higher than the previous year. However, this is still below the median pay for full-time staff in the wider UK economy, which is £27,600. It also masks significant variation between regions and in different types of college, with staff in sixth-form colleges being the best paid, and those in land-based colleges receiving the lowest average salaries.

Workforce decline

Overall, the number of jobs in colleges dropped by 2.7 per cent in 2014-15, compared with 12 months earlier, according to staff individualised record (SIR) data. The biggest drop was among senior managers at 10.2 per cent. The smallest was among assessors and verifiers (1.2 per cent).

The researchers also studied data from the Skills Funding Agency and found that the overall college workforce in 2014-15 stood at 124,609 full-time equivalent roles.

The University and College Union’s head of FE, Andrew Harden, said: “No one should be surprised to find that the FE workforce has shrunk when the sector has endured this level of cuts. The tragedy is that, at the same time, the country has never needed FE more.

“Amid an increasingly highprofile and heated debate about immigration and skills shortages is an untold story of the government’s scandalous failure to invest in growing the skills of the existing UK workforce.”

He added: “At a time when the majority of colleges’ attention is focused on area reviews, it is no surprise there is little progress. After years of redundancies, worsening terms, falling pay and rocketing workloads the people who can deliver apprenticeships – college staff – need to be given the resources to do it.”

It’s all subjective

The data also reveals that an individual teacher’s job prospects – and even the size of their salary – tends to be very much dependent on what subject they teach.

The most lucrative subject areas in 2014-15 were the humanities, science and business administration, management and professional, each with a median annual pay band of £33,000-£33,999.

At the other end of the spectrum, teachers of land-based provision received £8,000 less on average. The sector offering the biggest number of teaching jobs was the visual and performing arts and media (11.5 per cent), followed by English, languages and communication (10.1 per cent).

Understanding the college workforce

Almost half the college workforce is made up of teaching staff (44.8 per cent), followed by service staff (17.7 per cent) and word processing, clerical and secretarial staff (9.9 per cent). Senior managers make up just 0.6 per cent of contracts in the sample colleges. The latter category also has the highest proportion of full-time staff (88.2 per cent). But overall, 60.3 per cent of the workforce is part-time, with the highest proportion of part-time staff found in the service staff category (71.9 per cent).

The researcher’s view

The new report on the 2014-15 college workforce is based on HR data submissions from 115 colleges (a third of the total), constituting nearly 80,000 staff contracts. This was a great improvement on the previous year when only a quarter of colleges submitted data.

The 2014-15 submission was the first managed by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF); we hope this reflects growing recognition by the sector of our commitment to improving the system and making it useful to providers.

The 2014-15 workforce data from non-college providers was gathered through surveys. Although our workforce data is not a census of all providers, it presents valuable trend information. Also, the analysis in the reports includes triangulation with other data sources to validate what our data is indicating.

Sheila Kearney is head of research at the ETF

The principal’s view

The drop in the workforce is directly related to funding. Between 2010 and last year, we lost about 10-15 per cent of funding. At my college, we lost about 70 staff last year out of 400. That tended to be in those areas – like Esol (English for speakers of other languages) – where funding was cut the most.

For the first time this year, we’re growing. We’re having to make some cuts in some specific areas, but overall the aim is to grow by about 30 or 40 staff because the funding settlement was better than expected. In some areas, such as apprenticeships, we’re doing better so we can afford to start growing again.

What we’re having to do is reshape. Areas that were big five years ago – eg, adult education – have shrunk. Areas that were smaller are growing. Our apprenticeships team is growing because that area is growing.

Andy Forbes is principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London


These pay figures tell a stark story

The series of reports published by the Education and Training Foundation today have been created to provide the FE sector with the detailed data that colleges need for both informed analysis and decision-making.

The data always offers a fascinating insight into what’s going on in the sector, albeit based on data from 2014-15. In policy terms, this was an age ago. The drop of about 3 per cent in the overall workforce in this period will surprise no one. Next year’s reports – and ones for subsequent years – will likely show the trend continuing.

But the most intriguing and concerning findings are those around the apparent pay gap for non-teaching staff when it comes to gender and ethnicity. It’s hard to believe that, in 2016, any institutions would make decisions around recruitment, promotion and pay on the grounds of an individual’s sex or ethnic background. But the data is stark. Frontier Economics has carried out controls “for all other factors we can account for” and the conclusions stack up.

However, while women and ethnic minorities are “less likely to be in senior positions than men and white British staff respectively”, there is “no evidence that gender, ethnicity or disability have an effect on career progression”.

What the data cannot do, of course, is explain the reasons behind a phenomenon. Whether this apparent inequality is caused by design or circumstance, it is impossible to say. But, in any case, it should be a deep concern to anyone working in FE.

It is a timely reminder of the need for the sector to promote equality and diversity in recruitment, retention and promotion if it is to have any hope of being fully representative of the communities that it serves.


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