FE college rally FE college rally. Photo: UCU

Further Education teachers in ten colleges walked out this week to demand pay parity, reports Sean Ledwith

UCU and other union members at ten Further Education colleges in England began rolling strike action this week. Ten colleges were out on Tuesday 28th and five of those also took a second day of action on Wednesday 29th. The branches involved have committed to up to ten days of walk-outs if necessary over the rest of this term.

The industrial action is primarily a protest against the collapse of pay parity that has affected the sector since the Tories came to power over a decade ago but also takes in opposition to creeping managerialism and escalating workloads. Three other colleges were scheduled to participate in the action but the threat of disruption was enough to prompt last-minute deals from management.

FE lecturers have suffered a devastating 30% pay cut in real terms since the Tories came to power in 2010. The gap between schoolteachers’ pay and FE lecturers has now stretched to £9,000 per year in favour of the former. Last December, the governing Association of Colleges (AOC) offered a derisory 1% pay rise, which would be pathetically inadequate at the best of times but even more so now as inflationary pressures in the economy start to bite.

The AOC regard 1% as suitable reward for both the months of online learning lecturers had to organise from scratch and the additional workload of the teacher assessed grades that were required in place of exams. The AOC and its government paymasters are utterly dismissive of the herculean efforts of staff in the sector to keep a decent educational provision going in the face of Tory-created Covid calamity.

Gavin Williamson, in his farewell message as Education Secretary, absurdly talked about being ‘proud of the transformational reforms I’ve led in Post 16 education: in further education colleges, our Skills agenda, apprenticeships and more.‘ He forgot to mention over 24,000 staff have left the sector over the last ten years and courses for a million adult learners have been axed. Williamson and his acolytes at the DfE have also done nothing about soaring principals’ pay, which in the ten biggest colleges in the country still averages at over £200k per year. No wonder the mood among staff in the sector is a mixture of anger and demoralisation.

Further education has become a laboratory for Tory obsessions with marketisation and casualisation since the sector was semi-privatised in the 1990s. The strikes this autumn contain the seeds of a fightback for an alternative vision of post-16 education based on collective, rather than corporate, values.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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