Further-education staff are striking for the sake of resources for education, while money is wasted on expensive consultants, reports Peter Bird.
A spirited picket line formed outside Lambeth College in Clapham on Tuesday morning in the second week of a bitter battle for fair pay and working conditions. They are striking in common with twelve other colleges across the country.
College staff suffered pay cuts of over 30% (against inflation) in the past ten years. Their union, the University and College Union (UCU), are demanding a pay increase of over 5% but have been offered a derisory 1%.
A carnival atmosphere was created as pickets drummed and paraded in front of their building chanting, “The money’s there, where’s our share?”
With a more bitter tone, they explained that UCU campaigned with colleges and won £400m of extra government funding for the sector. In August 2020 £224m of that funding arrived in colleges and could have been used to increase staff pay.
Additionally, in Clapham, college land and buildings are being sold off for capital gain. One teacher told me that the government pay £6000 per-head for her students, but she has to plead a case with management to get resources for such things as student excursions, which are relevant to their learning. Teaching-aid technology doesn’t function properly and management, from her perspective, is poor over things like student enrolment. An ESOL teacher spoke of a body of Afghan students who wanted places but haven’t as yet been enrolled.
Money is spent, I was told, on numerous external consultants who recommend that staff should work harder and that performance related pay should be introduced.
Some teachers did cross the picket line but, nevertheless, expressed solidarity. Those with families to support found it hard to manage on strike pay, especially since their resources are low after the value of their pay has diminished for so long. Meanwhile, the college Principal is said to be earing £250,000 pa. Other people told me that they had joined the union recently due to the dispute.
Those on strike were clear that the situation was about more than just pay: the issue of low pay was driving good people out of the profession, and the poor management and resources were detrimental to the best teaching outcomes.
Their strike leaflet explains:
‘College staff have worked tirelessly throughout the Covid-19 crisis for their students. As we come out of the pandemic, further education will be central to the nation’s recovery. There is nothing we want more than to teach our students, help build their skills, and transform their futures, but we can’t sit back while our pay in further education falls behind.’
The strike will continue.
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