The Association of Colleges has advised colleges to “aim” to increase staff pay by 6.5 per cent to help close the “unacceptable” gap between FE and the school sector.
A pay award of 6.5 per cent, to apply to FE staff for the 2023/24 academic year, would match the pay rise accepted by school lteachers earlier this year following unprecedented strike action.
The college recommendation came after the latest round of negotiations between the AoC and the five unions making up the National Joint Forum (NJF), which is calling for a 15.4 per cent pay rise for college staff.
The AoC has until now refused to make a non-binding pay recommendation to its members until extra funding had been provided by ministers.
The representative body said today that colleges should use all of their cut of the £200 million government 16 to 19 funding boost announced in July to fund the staff pay boost and “address staff recruitment and retention challenges”.
Announcing the new funding, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, told MPs in the House of Commons that she “expects” this extra funding “to go to the front line”.
AoC chief executive David Hughes said: “We have long said that the gap between the school and FE sectors on teacher pay is unacceptable, and it is an enormous step forward that the government has finally accepted their responsibility as funders to put that right.”
The association did acknowledge the “difficult position” colleges with smaller 16 to 19 cohorts face and will likely not be able to afford such a pay recommendation.
That’s because the extra funding, £185 million in 2023/24 and £285 million in 2024/25, is being allocated to colleges through increased programme cost weightings and the per-student funding rate for 16- to 19-year-olds.
Colleges with larger adult or apprenticeship cohorts will therefore struggle to meet the AoC’s recommended 6.5 per cent pay award.
“It [6.5 per cent] will be exceptionally hard for those colleges with small or no 16 to 18s,” said Mark Malcolmson, principal of City Lit, a large adult education college.
“It would have been much fairer if the whole college sector was treated equally.”
College leaders that spoke to FE Week, but wished to be unnamed, said that while there was widespread agreement that the 16 to 18 allocation process was unfair, several would be able to fund a pay award of around 6.5 per cent.
Others were worried about losing staff to nearby colleges that received an big increase to their 16 to 19 allocation and were concerned about the medium to long-term impact on their budgets.
Gerry McDonald, chief executive of New City College and chair of the AoC’s employment policy group, said he would like to see as many colleges as possible making the 6.5 per cent pay award.
“College leaders do not want pay in colleges to slip even further behind schools and industry roles,” he said.
“However, it is absolutely clear that a number of colleges will not be able to achieve 6.5 per cent because the new funding is simply and transparently insufficient.
“By using the 16 to 18 budget to distribute funds and linking it to high-cost subjects, the additional funding available for college pay as a proportion of overall college turnover varies enormously between colleges. This would make a simple single pay award recommendation difficult to achieve for a large number of colleges.”
Hughes called on the unions to halt striking.
“My hope is that this funding will be only the first step towards closing the gap over the coming years, but I know that we will need to campaign hard to achieve that,” he said. “That’s why we are asking the unions to campaign with us nationally, rather than taking action locally. We have shown this works.”
Earlier in May, the Association of Colleges doubled down on its refusal to make a pay proposal for next year, as doing so will “let the government off the hook” for funding colleges properly to pay its staff.
Unions are understood to be pressing the AoC to agree to a national pay bargaining framework for the sector and call an end to the annual process of non-binding pay recommendations, which colleges can choose to accept or ignore.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Our analysis shows the money is there for college bosses to raise pay and treat staff fairly.
“The money has now arrived to pay our members fairly and a conditional recommendation of 6.5 per cent has been made.”
Last year, the AoC made a 2.25 per cent pay award recommendation, below the 10 per cent demand from unions. It was subsequently rejected.
UCU is currently balloting union members in 89 colleges to vote for industrial action, which will close on Tuesday 10 October 2023.