From education to employment

Education Focussed Budget Welcomed, but NATFHE Warn of Pay Deal Dispute Ahead

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown MP, yesterday faced the House of Commons for his Budget Announcement which seems to have focussed the development and funding spotlight firmly on Education.

He referred to the Leitch Review, which is engaged in examining the skills that employers will require in 2020 for a competitive domestic workforce and therefore economy. Mr. Brown was widely criticised for not including much mention of the National Health Service (NHS), and questions still remain as to whether the funding will be made available with too many short term conditions for education to truly benefit.

NATFHE Warn of Troubled Waters

One of the key issues for Further Education colleges has been the realisation of the pay deals agreed almost two years ago for a pay rise for college lecturers. NATFHE, the University and College Lecturers” Union, claim that these pay deals have not been honoured in more than half of the colleges involved, and have been in talks with the colleges body the Association of Colleges (AoC) this week. They have rejected the initial proposal on a pay rise, with the pay gap between college lecturers and school teachers remaining a thorn in the side for FE.

Barry Lovejoy, NATFHEs head of colleges, reacted to the budget with considerable scepticism. He expressed his concern of the danger of a short term approach to education funding, saying: “Much of the positive reform for FE set out in this budget will be undermined by the governments short-term funding priorities which are creating insecurity in colleges, leading to more redundancies and persistent low pay.

“NATFHE has just rejected a pay offer of 1.5% for lecturers next year which our employers, the AoC, reported was determined by funding uncertainty in colleges,” he continued. “If the money isnt there, changes such as improving workforce development simply wont happen.”

ATL Praise Positive Statement on Funding

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), another of the education trade unions which represents approximately 160,000 individuals across education, focussed on the positive aspects of this announcement with regards to the fears that had been expressed previously. There had been some concern that next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review would close the final chapter on growth for education spending. Mr. Brown’s budget statement seems to have allayed the ATL’s fears.

Dr. Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the ATL, welcomed the budget announcement but called for caution, saying: “ATL welcomes the much needed attention to FE with free education to the age of 25. However, we are sceptical about the capacity of employers to offer the leadership in FE envisaged by the Chancellor.” She went on to say that what she feels could prove to be “one of the most important announcements” is the Youth National Community Service, calling this “potentially a crucial element of citizenship education if it can be made attractive.”

In the long run, then, education would seem to have received a fillip. Political commentators are fairly certain that Gordon Brown is the next in line for the Labour Party leadership, and as such stands a good chance of being the next Prime Minister. It should be encouraging for FE; but to say that funding and pay issues remain unresolved is a gross understatement.

Jethro Marsh

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