AoC refuses to make college pay proposal

Membership body says any recommendation currently will be 'an insult to the hard-working staff'

Membership body says any recommendation currently will be 'an insult to the hard-working staff'

20 Apr 2023, 15:49

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The Association of Colleges has taken the unprecedented decision to refuse to make a pay recommendation for college staff unless ministers intervene with more funding.

Chief executive David Hughes said the association could not offer a recommendation to its members for 2023/24 because “colleges simply can’t afford to make a meaningful offer” that would not be “an insult to the hard-working staff”.

Following the start of negotiations between the AoC and five unions this week, Hughes wrote to education secretary Gillian Keegan (full text below) explaining that the “difficult and unusual decision” has been forced upon the membership body due to inflation of 10 per cent and college funding lagging well behind.

Last year, the AoC recommended that colleges give staff a 2.5 per cent pay increase when the unions had been demanding a 10 per cent uplift.

The five unions in the National Joint Forum (NJF) – the University and College Union (UCU), Unison, the National Education Union (NEU), GMB and Unite – have demanded an inflation-busting 15.4 per cent increase for 2023/24 on all pay points.

Hughes said that college leaders wanted to improve staff pay but “without more investment from the government, their hands are tied”.

“That is why we have made the difficult and unusual decision to not share a proposed pay recommendation at this stage in the annual pay negotiations process,” he said.

“This is not because we don’t think staff deserve a pay increase – we do – but because colleges simply can’t afford to make a meaningful offer, and to continue to recommend small percentage pay rises in line with college funding would be an insult to the hard-working college staff.”

The AoC said that the recruitment and retention crisis was growing because sector staff were paid too little, citing the “enormous gap” of around £8,000 between school and college teacher pay.

“That is not fair to college staff and will have a severe impact on the economy, people’s life chances and efforts to reduce inequalities,” Hughes added.

“This is a crisis not just for college staff and leaders, it is a crisis that will hinder delivery of the government’s big promises and priorities. The prime minister’s promise of strong economic growth and overcoming inequalities through T Levels, lifelong learning and apprenticeships is at serious risk.”

Hughes concluded the letter by requesting an urgent meeting with Keegan to “discuss what more can be done to secure the investment colleges need”, ahead of the next NJF meeting on May 11.

The UCU would not comment on the pay negotiations at this stage. In its submission to the AoC last month the union said that sector pay had fallen behind inflation by more than 35 per cent since 2009/10.

Its submission continued: “In recent years staff in FE in England have seen their pay, working conditions and professionalism undermined. The annual cycle of NJF negotiations has not resulted in meaningful and tangible outcomes that benefit staff.

“This year the joint trade unions’ claim seeks change. We want the outcomes of these negotiations to result in a pay rise linked to inflation and meaningful and binding agreements leading to real action to address excessive workloads.”

As well as a new pay offer, the unions want “significant movement” towards “meaningful national agreements to address workload in colleges”. Progress towards a new national contract for FE staff is also among the unions’ asks.

They want a climate change commission to be formed that will look at sustainability, new skills, climate justice and a road map for the sector to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Fresh figures were released this week which indicated that inflation remained above 10 per cent in March – 10.1 per cent according to the consumer price index or 13.5 per cent year-on-year for the retail price index. 

Letter from David Hughes to education secretary Gillian Keegan

Dear Secretary of State

I am writing following a meeting today of the joint negotiating forum between college employers and the college staff unions, where we began negotiations for the AoC pay recommendation to colleges for 2023-24. With inflation still above 10% and college funding rates lagging a long way behind, you will be able to imagine how difficult the meeting was.

College leaders are clear that they want to improve pay but without more investment from the government, their hands are tied. This is now at crisis point, with staff recruitment and retention challenges worse than ever. The impact of that is clear, with colleges unable to fully deliver opportunities for people to gain the skills employers are crying out for because they cannot recruit the people to teach those skills. This is leading to thousands of missed opportunities for young people and adults to get the skills that will help them secure well-paid work and it is holding back economic growth. 

Meanwhile, your government has shown that it is willing to invest new funds to support teacher pay in schools but not to even try to match that for colleges. The already enormous gap between school teacher and college lecturer pay of around £8,000 per annum will continue to grow unless colleges receive more funding. That is not fair to college staff and will have a severe impact on the economy, people’s life chances and efforts to reduce inequalities. 

That is why we made the difficult and unusual decision to not share a proposed pay recommendation at this stage in the annual pay negotiation process. This is not because we don’t think staff deserve a pay increase – we do – but because colleges simply can’t afford to make a meaningful offer, and to continue to recommend small percentage pay rises in line with college funding would be an inadequate response to the cost-of-living crisis facing hard-working college staff. 

This is a crisis not just for college staff and leaders, it is a crisis that will hinder delivery of the government’s big promises and priorities. The PM’s promise of strong economic growth and overcoming inequalities through T Levels, lifelong learning, and apprenticeships is at serious risk. 

The next meeting of our joint forum is in mid-May and I would urgently request a meeting to discuss what more can be done to secure the investment colleges need. An investment in colleges is an investment in students, businesses, local communities and the economic success of the entire country. 

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3 Comments

  1. Hilary Hicks

    Underfunded, staff sickness, staff shortages, quality diminishing, lack of opportunity for vocational learners, lack of insight!!! How do we address the skills shortages. The above statements are a true reflection of FE at the moment. Time for change!!!!