From education to employment

The 2005 Conference Speech by Paul Mackney, General Secretary of NATFHE

This year has been eventful within the education sector as a whole and the FE sector in particular. On the eve of Adult Learners” Week the Association of Colleges (AoC) stated that Government funding cuts were biting into the Adult Learning provision, which would lead to colleges shutting down courses and laying off some staff. Also in the past two weeks, NATFHE members at 13 more colleges have voted to strike after the pay deal agreed previously (amounting to an 8% increase over the course of two years) failed to materialise.

With this in addition to the more continual debates regarding pensions, staff pay levels and overtime, the unequal treatment between different branches of the education sector by Governmental policy and the proposed union of the AUT and NATFHE, the members of this union had much to deliberate when they gathered today for their annual conference, held this year in Eastbourne. And amongst the speakers at the conference is Paul Mackney, the General Secretary of NATFHE, who addressed them this afternoon.

Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Mackney made it very clear that he feels very proud of the accomplishments and heritage of NATFHE. He stated: “We know what we stand for and know what we won”t stand for.” He points out that the satisfaction rating (within the FE sector) is exemplary, saying: “Our students give customer satisfaction ratings that any private company would die for – 93% in FE colleges which the majority of the population ““ 77% – believe are better than schools for over 16s.”

He is also very much aware of the fact that giving someone the education and training that they need is not simply a matter of educating, and feels very keenly that NATFHE’s members are actively involved in transforming people’s lives. And he laments the fact that, whilst this should be a “golden age of mass further and higher education”, there is a perceived lack of recognition of the importance of the sector.

Where Did Tomlinson Go?

He is very forthright regarding the Government’s approach to the sector, saying: “I”ve learnt over eight years of new Labour that the government has better visions than St Paul and more missions than Mother Theresa. But a grey mist of prejudice envelops Downing Street and prevents them appreciating the daily miracles performed by our members with students written off by the school system and the rest of society.” He believes that the upper echelons of Government are prejudiced due to their participation in the traditional school ““ based sixth forms and “old universities”.

Regarding the Tomlinson Report’s lack of implementation (and indeed in the election campaign, only the Liberal Democrats committed themselves to a full implementation of the Tomlinson proposals), he sees this and the pronouncement that every secondary school can have its own sixth form as clear indications of the prejudice within the Government towards tertiary colleges, remarking that the hidden message behind rejecting the Tomlinson Report runs along the lines of: “Vocational education, is something for other people’s children, darling.”

The FE Funding Gap

As has been widely discussed, there is a gap in funding between the FE and HE sectors today; and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) comes in for criticism from NATFHE’s General Secretary. Mr. Mackney states: “FE succeeds despite a 10% funding gap with schools and funding systems based on smoke and mirrors administered by a 47-armed LSC – which was supposed to cost £50m less than its predecessor and ended up costing £200m more.”

He goes on to explain that the average discrepancy in funding between the schools and FE colleges today amounts to approximately £500,000 per institution, and points out that the AoC fears that the next round of budgets (for 2006 / 07) could be even worse. He describes it as “ridiculous short ““ termism” to divert funds away from Adult Learning provision beyond Level 2 qualifications, and holds out the hope that the Foster review will bring back a more careful and consultative approach to policy formulation.

Pay and Pensions

The subject of pay levels and pay deals has been a contentious topic this year, with a pay deal formerly agreed for FE Lecturers not appearing and the staff going on strike to attempt to get the increases agreed. “Over 60 English FE colleges”, according to Mr. Mackney, went on strike and have enjoyed some success in “committing local employers to honour last year’s national pay deal.” He goes on to describe this year’s FE pay deal as “contemptibly mean”, and has apparently expressed as much to the new Minister for Lifelong Learning, the Right Hon. Bill Rammell MP.

Turning to pensions, he describes NATFHE as believing in “inter ““ generational solidarity” and says that, whether the true figure for the cut in pension benefit is the 23% cited by NATFHE or the 12.5% that Ruth Kelly described it as in March, there should be no cut handed on to the next generation. He warns the Government that, whereas before the election only the AUT and NATFHE were balloted for action, he now believes he has “all the teacher unions on board for action now.”


Mr. Mackney strongly defends NATFHE’s stance on rights for the Palestinians, and points out that: “Education unions cannot seal themselves off from the wider world.” He is proud of NATFHE’s participation in the national and international trade union movement and expresses NATFHE’s opposition to what he sees as an erosion of our civil liberties. He sets out strongly NATFHE’s position in complete “opposition to all forms of institutional discrimination, oppression and harassment”, and sees this as a cornerstone belief of NATFHE.

NATFHE and AUT to Merge?

The General Secretary then addresses the issue of the proposed merger of the AUT and NATFHE, and calls for members to vote on this matter. He thanks the AUT negotiators for their hard work in conjunction with the NATFHE team to come up with a proposed united rule book. Mr. Mackney believes that this potential union is of vital importance in the face of the challenges that loom before them, saying that he is “convinced that pooling the resources of our two unions will enable us to do it better.”

Mr. Mackney acknowledges that the two unions do have independent traditions, and that this new proposed united rule book is “far from the perfection of the NATFHE rulebook”. But he believes this to be a good solid foundation upon which to build, allowing the members of this new united union to adapt to the changing needs of the future. He finishes with this exhortation:

“Vote unanimously for amalgamation so we can be more effective in building that better world. It is an idea whose time has come.”

Jethro Marsh

What do you think of the General Secretary’s statement? Tell us in the FE Blog

Related Articles