The publication of the new Education and Skills White Paper for FE has received a cautious welcome from the University and College Lecturers” Union (NATFHE).
The bill will see a greater emphasis placed upon skills for the workplace and is in keeping with the recommendations as announced in the Sir Andrew Foster Report on FE Colleges that was released last November. Also included is the notion that failing colleges will face private business takeovers should the extant management structure be deemed to be failing.
NATFHE’s Cautious Support
Certain areas of the White Paper are welcomed by the union. They support on the whole the position on skills for the workforce and making FE the flag ““ bearer for upskilling the workforce. They also welcome the announcement that there will be a significant effort made to meet this target without sacrificing some of the comprehensive curriculum offered in FE colleges, any such move having obvious deleterious effects for some of their 69,000 members.
NATFHE also support the paper’s position on the vital drive to develop the professional training standards for staff and the drive to improve the quality offered in colleges. They are at pains to point out, however, that the quality offered in FE colleges has improved drastically, citing figures indicating that just 2% of colleges are now failing, compared with 20% in 2001.
The analysis and collection of accurate and representative data to drive forward the skills agenda and the nature of the workforce in FE was also welcomed, as was the news that all those aged 19 ““ 25 will receive free training towards qualifications up to and including Level 3, or A Level equivalent. The extension of the National Employer Training Programme (NETP) to cover higher levels of training was also praised.
Pay and Retention
However, NATFHE also noted that the success of any of these initiatives would rely in no small part on significant investment. NATFHE have recently rejected a pay offer from the Association of Colleges (AoC) of just 1.5%, which the AoC are understood to have made in a bid to meet an anticipated smaller growth in the FE budget allocation between 2005 / 2006 and 2006 / 2007. The increase in this period of just 3% is far below the previous years” average growth of approximately 10%.
NATFHE are also concerned at the intention to replace management structures at FE colleges adjudged to be failing, with the Government stating that they intend to put these colleges out to private tender. NATFHE state that the positive developments that are hoped for will only come to pass following significant investment, and fear that removing FE from the public sector is the next step on this road.
NATFHE report that between September 2003 ““ September 2004 FE colleges reported a lecturing staff turnover rise from 11% to 14.3%. It would seem that retaining the lecturing staff will prove all the more difficult in the face of increased uncertainty in structure, a lower pay rise than expected, and the prospect of even more inspections with the uncertainty and stress that these bring.
Good with the Bad?
Barry Lovejoy, the Head of Colleges for NATFHE, said: “The White Paper contains some really good initiatives which should mean further education can play a major role in improving skills. But at the same time, we”re getting reports of financial insecurity in colleges, leading to more redundancies and persistent low pay.
“NATFHE has just rejected a dismal pay offer of 1.5% for lecturers next year which our employers, the Association of Colleges, reported was determined by colleges getting less funding for next year than they had expected,” he continued. “We don”t agree that FE is ripe for private organisations to make a quick buck. It has been shown that where problems of quality are identified, they can be turned around very quickly.”
He concluded: “Overall, it’s difficult to see how colleges will be able to rise to the government’s skills challenge when their workforce is demoralised by job insecurity, the spectre of private takeover, and the ever-increasing pay gap between college lecturers and schoolteachers.”
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