Fears for future of FE key topic at University and College Union conference

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will head to Liverpool tomorrow for the start of the union’s tenth annual congress — with the future of FE set to be a key topic up for discussion.

Delegates will vote on 35 FE-related motions during the three-day event at the ACC Liverpool — covering concerns over members’ pay, area reviews, “unprecedented” funding cuts, and implementation of the counter-terrorism Prevent duty placed on colleges by the government.

The ninth FE-related motion, for example, states that “this conference deplores the ongoing government programme of area reviews of FE, caused by the same government which systematically refuses to fund post-16 education adequately, whilst effectively making it compulsory for young people up to 18 to stay in education”.

It adds: “This is staggeringly hypocritical in that the government is exhorting colleges to work collaboratively and reduce competition whilst supporting a blinkered target-driven short-term approach to education.”

The main day dedicated to FE will be Thursday — but ahead of that UCU general secretary Sally Hunt will reflect, during her speech to conference tomorrow afternoon, on the tough financial climate facing the sector.

She will tell delegates: “Colleges and their staff really can’t win under a government that seems to have little understanding of what they do and why they are important to their communities.

“It is the cuts to public funding since 2010 that has created this [financial] weakness.”

She will add: “We meet at a time of extraordinary change.

“With white papers on schools, skills and higher education, the wrongness of the government’s vision won’t make the changes they propose any less real.”

Ms Hunt will also announce plans for a joint national demonstration to defend education in the autumn with UCU’s sister organisation, the National Union of Students.

Our very own FE Week editor will also be on a panel discussing what colleges can do to increase their market share of apprenticeship provision. This was criticised by the Skills Minister in November at the Association of Colleges (AoC) conference for being just 30 per cent.

Andrew Harden, head of FE at UCU, told FE Week today ahead of conference: “Clearly pay will be a big topic. We are getting to a situation where we are getting on towards a 20 per cent real cut in pay since 2009, so there will be a big debate about that around how we can get back what would look like meaningful national bargaining.

“Obviously area reviews are a big concern for the sector and that will be one of the bigger and longer discussions.”

He added that chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s damning comments to MPs on FE would still be a hot topic for discussion.

It comes after the Ofsted boss caused widespread anger across the sector by telling the Commons Education Select Committee in March that 16-to-19-year-olds should be taught in schools rather than colleges, because FE was “in a mess”.

See below for the full list of FE-related topics for motions going before this year’s conference:

FE1 – Pay

FE2 – Equal pay

FE3 – Equality data in further and adult education

FE4 – Campaign to defend further and adult education

FE5 – Defending post-16 provision

FE6 – Apprenticeships, disability and the destruction of FE

FE7 – National campaigning, area reviews and mergers

FE8 – Area reviews

FE9 – Area reviews of FE

FE10 – Area reviews

FE11 – Protect disabled people’s access to FE in merger process

FE12 – Cuts to FE, area reviews, and their impact on learning opportunities and access to education

FE13 – FE cuts, area reviews, and gendered impact on learning opportunities

FE14 – Anti-casualisation in a time of FE mergers

FE15 – The impact of area reviews on black communities

FE16 – Area reviews and LGBT concerns

FE17 – ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages], campaigning to defend further and adult education

FE18 – Cuts to ESOL and the persecution of women

FE19 – Ensuring gender identity equality in prison education

FE20 – Casualisation

FE21 – Workload

FE22 – FE workload and exploitation of staff

FE23 – Reaching out to ACE workers

FE24 – Supporting small scale ACE events and actions

FE25 – ACE [Adult and Continuing Education] national meeting

FE26 – ACE representation in UCU structures

FE27 – Regional adult and community education anti-casualisation campaigns

FE28 – Greylisting college principals

FE29 – Accountability in FE

FE30 – Prevent – education is not surveillance

FE31 – Learner/student voice

FE32 – Professionalism in post-16 education

FE33 – FE lecturers and QTS

FE34 – Lesson observation

FE35 – FE and Ofsted

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  1. Norman

    I am staggered by the sheer volume of initiatives generated from a dying ineffective Union

    What has UCU done to defend against the cuts, redundancies but to bleat on and sabre rattle but rather than targeting a few initiatives and focussing we instead see a tirade of rubbish that will blur and contradict.

    Too many UCU reps are drawn from declining areas and are old and embittered. A joke and no wonder colleges and government treat the union with the contempt it deserves

    Here’s a new measure FE36 leave the union, save your subs as you will be as well protected as you are now

    What a joke, UCU what a mess