After campaigning hard all year, we were delighted that in July the Secretary of State for Education secured around £200 million in 2023/24 for colleges and other FE providers to address key priorities, including the recruitment and retention of staff.
The money is significant – and yet not enough.
Significant because it has allowed the AoC to this week recommend that colleges aim to increase pay by 6.5 per cent, in line with the school teachers’ pay award accepted by the teaching unions. Not enough however, because after 13 years of funding cuts, college pay still lags behind schools and industry, and the cost-of-living crisis is still biting hard.
Three things are clear to me. First, we have shown that by a concerted campaign nationally, supported by college leaders across the country, we can win the investment our sector so sorely needs.
That’s why we have invited the college staff unions to join us in that campaigning and put down their ballot papers – we have shown our resolve to win funding to go into pay and we want staff and union support for that over the coming months and years.
Second, this year’s win must be only the starting point in bringing college pay back to where it should be after years of declining investment by this government and its predecessors.
The extra money came about because DfE officials and ministers agreed to consider college staff pay alongside teacher pay in schools and recognise that the enormous gap between schoolteachers (£42,000) and college lecturers (£33,000) is not acceptable. That bodes well for the future and our prospects of closing that gap completely.
Third, the mechanism that DfE used to distribute the additional funding has resulted in very different amounts of money available in each college to put into pay. That was inevitable whichever mechanism they used, but we know that some colleges will simply not get enough additional funding to afford our recommended 6.5 per cent.
That’s why we have also recommended that every college is fully transparent with how much additional funding they have got and how it is being spent on staff. We campaigned saying we needed more money to pay staff better, so we want to show that we meant it.
With a general election on the horizon, we know that we need to influence the thinking and the manifestos of the political parties.
Investment in colleges was decimated after the 2010 election; let’s all work together now to make sure that is reversed whoever wins in 2024. Staff in colleges deserve it, our communities and employers need it.