College lecturers of a certain age may remember that in around 1993 colleges came out of LEA control and became corporations. Shortly after this, they phased out the so-called Silver Book contract.
It's regrettable because it was a reasonable contract with decent working conditions including a cap on 21 hours of teaching per week.
A new model of education
But suddenly – from post-1993 – college management started squeezing the lecturers by putting enormous pressure on their time. They introduced a new contract and started running education on the basis of supply and demand, the laws of business and market economy. Education became a product that you bought and sold, something you promoted and advertised.
Lecturers’ admin became (mainly) the stuff that the middle management did – liaising with examining boards, analysing and producing data, recruiting students, marketing and promoting individual courses etc.
And today, because funding is closely linked with outcomes, there’s also a mad frenzy about getting students through. As such – and not without justification – some lecturers feel that the quality of education is being compromised.
Lecturers are concerned that they have to teach rigidly to the subject specifications and objectives set by exam boards, that they have very little time to explore topics – or related areas – in-depth or to develop students' critical thinking skills. With class sizes in excess of 25 and the limits imposed by the lack of time, some lecturers just teach exam skills/knowledge alone and nothing else.
Such a pressurised working environment where lecturers are teaching upwards of 24 hours a week has a direct correlation with one's wellbeing. It’s no wonder that so many lecturers suffer from stress and ill-health which often – if not dealt with properly – lead to long-term sick leave.
In the good old days
Compare and contrast this with what lecturers had prior to 1993 when they exercised a great deal of classroom autonomy. They had sole responsibility about how they organised the teaching and delivery of their courses. There was less pressure because they were doing less of the middle management type of admin.
Some of the perks offered in the old contract were the six weeks' uninterrupted summer holidays that all full-time and part-time lecturers had, a maximum of 21 hours teaching per week and remission for extra administrative duties and a chance to top up their pay by taking extra teaching.
Neither was there an expectation on lecturers to recruit students by visiting schools and doing PR work, open evenings, masterclasses or – if they hadn't done the required number of annual teaching hours (750) – invigilation duties.
Lecturers didn’t break out into a cold sweat at the thought of a government inspection or were asked by their management to carry out extra duties in the evening or weekends as a way of preparing their lessons/lesson plans/schemes of work, group profiles and students' individual targets prior to a visit from Ofsted.
In addition, lecturers weren’t required to minutely account for their success and achievement rates or expected to offer extra support classes or carry out exhaustive amount of enrolment duties during August and early September.
Yes, they were asked to supply attendance, achievement and results figures, but not as definitive data. Often this responsibility fell on department heads.
The point is that there were less stressful duties. Lecturers didn't wrestle with figures and statistics for the benefit of education management or government bodies like Ofsted or HMI. This was the responsibility of senior management to manage data, finance and budgets.
Playing around with figures, statistics and data was the responsibility of the principal and the governing body. Surely that was the reason why they were appointed in the first place – to do the number crunching, to manage finance and the half a dozen or so funding channels.
Over the past 25 years, however, course delivery and management in FE have changed beyond recognition so that lecturers take on middle-management duties but without the middle-management pay.
Take, for instance, the total number of hours lecturers are expected to do. The mechanism for calculating contact teaching hours accumulated by a lecturer has altered so much that’s it’s difficult to work out how many hours one has done and/or how many hours one owes.
But FE management can tweak their existing contracts to build staff morale. And what's more, it wouldn't cost them a penny.
Where the solution lies
My suggestion is simple: colleges should give staff a six weeks summer break instead of the four or five weeks they currently have. And there are good reasons for this. Many lecturers finish their teaching by Whitsun week, the last week of May. And what do they do between June and late July? At present, staff do the usual clearing their staff rooms, sorting out their resources, tidying up their admin stuff: generally faffing about doing very little that is essential, important or couldn't be done at home. Many lecturers try and make up five weeks by accruing their time off in lieu.
Of course, some staff are called in to deliver taster classes for Year 9 or Year 10 pupils from their local schools or hold welcome days for new students starting in September. Lecturers are also expected to attend staff training.
However, many lecturers feel that they do not need to be there for over a month and a half for this. The real problem is that senior management don’t know what to do with lecturers in June and July. Even if they insist on imposing extra duties, that still gives them two or three weeks to offer the teaching staff.
Tweaking the contracts
Just imagine how this is likely to boost lecturers' morale. It would make them feel that their college management is sympathetic to their plight, that they are empathetic to the level of stress they endure. It would give a sense that they’re a team, that they’re all in it together. In turn, staff are likely to be more accommodating and supportive because everyone appreciates an understanding, generous employer.
The management’s offering of an extra couple of weeks is also likely to benefit staff's mental health. It is acknowledged by numerous independent sources that lecturers (and, indeed, teachers) suffer from high levels of stress, for such is the nature of their work. This is understandable since they manage the performance and progress of 150 to 200 students every year.
That’s an enormous undertaking, equivalent to running a relatively large company where they are expected to carry out feasibility studies (initial assessments), devise strategic plans (schemes of work/lesson plans), deal with shareholders (parents, Ofsted and middle managers), monitor students' individual progress (quality management), deal with conflict management (classroom behaviour), provide progress and self-assessment reports (students' reports, professional development needs, lesson observations), and act as a surveillance operative for the government (Prevent, radicalisation, child abuse).
By offering an extra two weeks' holidays, colleges won’t break the bank nor lose out on anything in the way of results. It would be a great PR opportunity to show that colleges take their staff’s wellbeing seriously and, more importantly, they might reduce the staff absence figures.
Roshan Doug is a visiting professor, strategist and educational consultant at the University of Birmingham