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United we face a bright future

At incorporation, sixth form colleges were united in their desire to work together at national and college level to continue the success of their institutions into the new era. After seven years, they remain united in the Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum; they have maintained excellent relations with their staff and continue to be successful organisations, offering a first-class, all round education to mainly 16 to 19-year-old full-time students from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of abilities.

A national machinery was established in 1993 to negotiate pay and conditions between the SFCEF and the four main unions representing sixth-form college staff (the ATL, NUT, NASUWT and Unison). The key objectives agreed were harmonious working relationships, fair treatment of staff and the avoidance of disputes.

The forum and the unions have worked hard to maintain these principles. New contracts for teaching and support staff and the move of all staff on to these arrangements in 1994 was the first task of the national machinery. Since then, settlements on pay and conditions have been reached each year and implemented by all colleges, despite the scale of funding cuts they have experienced.

The performance of the national machinery has enabled colleges to maintain a stable climate of industrial relations and this has been mirrored in relationships between manaement and staff in each college.

Sixth form colleges have come a long way since 1993 and, with funding cuts of more than 30 per cent to be managed, there have been difficult times involving restructuring, redundancies and staff facing large cuts in salaries. Throughout, the forum has striven to support colleges with advice, surveys on pay and conditions topics and regional meetings and workshops with the chance to exchange good practices.

Over the past three years, funding problems have had a critical effect on national negotiations. In response, the forum and the unions together campaigned to raise the profile of sixth form colleges and improve funding. Employer and employee representatives agreed a common agenda for their meetings with ministers, government advisers, the FEFC and Department for Education and Employment officials.

Sixth form colleges are now looking ahead to the introduction of Curriculum 2000 and further changes in the post-16 education sector in the advent of the Learning and Skills Council, which could lead to new colleges.

The ethos of sixth form colleges and their style of industrial relations will provide them with a firm base to face the future and the forum will continue to endeavour to provide the support they need.

Sue Whitham is head of the Secretariat for the Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum. Tel 020 7296 6719

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