Initiated by London Region UCU
Preface (Paul Mackney)
This FE Manifesto is an excellent contribution to the debate about stopping the “race to the bottom” as it aptly describes it. At stake is not just the recruitment and retention of staff, and harnessing their flair and energy, but the quality and range of education of the huge number of students that FE offers opportunities to. Further education faces multiple challenges which Government policies are making worse. In the last 10
months there have been 27 separate redundancy announcements in London FE institutions alone. Staff often feel they are facing an onslaught which undermines the entire infrastructure of liberal education.
The cuts in adult education have bitten hard, whilst across the entire curriculum staff find their professionalism eroded by a narrow focus on the short term needs of some employers, compounded by the impact of the “market” which obliges institutions to pursue often meaningless goals.
Many members are demoralised so that despite the fantastic work being done, they feel undervalued, a mood deepened by the failure of many institutions to meet the pay levels agreed nationally, or seriously address the many issues of equality the current pressures highlight.
Our new union, UCU, will need to ensure the Government, the LSC, individual institutions, the Mayor of London and other local/regional authorities address the professional and industrial concerns this Manifesto highlights. Unless this challenge is taken up, we will see further education unable to address the issues of access, quality and equality that are at its heart.
The authors have done an excellent job and we welcome this manifesto as an important step in finding a way forward.
Paul Mackney, Joint General Secretary
The British education system is broadly organised across three main sectors: Statutory Education for children from 5- 16, Further and Higher Education. All of these sectors have been subject, to varying extents over the past 10-15 years, to changes which have encouraged greater competition within the sector and sometimes between sectors.
The rationale has been that competition enhances choice and encourages greater ability within educational institutions to respond to the choices made by the educational consumer, formerly known as pupils or students.
Many of the issues raised in this manifesto have relevance far wider than further education which has a unique, positive and indispensable role to play within the whole educational sector. This manifesto hopes to begin to outline that role.
Why FE is important
4 million people attend Further Education colleges today. Colleges teach more 16-19 year olds than any other sector. 44% of university students come from the college sector (indeed 11% of Higher Education students are studying in FE) and the percentage of exams passed has risen from 52% to 70 % over the last 5 years.
The range of subjects taught in FE is huge: from vocational courses to humanities courses and from externally accredited
courses to portfolio based or non-accredited provision. So why then does the sector get such bad press or no press at all? Why is funding in Adult Education being cut?
The answer lies in who attends FE. Few, if any, people involved in government or in the business sector understand or care about what goes on in FE because it is outside their direct experience. Many of our students are from some of the most deprived backgrounds and are amongst the most vulnerable.
We provide a second chance for millions of people who for one reason or another did not achieve the necessary qualifications to gain a better life for themselves and their families when they were at school. Teachers in this sector pride themselves on working with students with learning difficulties, students who have been previously excluded from education and students who have fled oppressive regimes. We serve one of the most socially and culturally diverse bodies of students in the education system.
Where is FE going?
In 1993 FE colleges were incorporated. The then Tory government severed the links with Local Education Authorities and introduced a market-driven element into FE. With this change came the obsession with targets and inspections which heralded the end of the comprehensive model in place since the late 1970s – the model which was secured only after generations had campaigned against privilege and inequality in education.
In the past 5 years the sector has seen a massive extension of 14-16 year old provision which is estimated to rise to over half a million by 2008.
This blurring of the school and college experience has damaged the unique role that both sectors provide. Students are being pigeon-holed vocationally or academically at an extremely early age. FE lecturers are being used as cheap labour, teaching school students for significantly less then their counterparts in schools and thus threatening teachers’ pay throughout education. Schools should be about providing a rounded education so that when young people leave they can make an informed choice as to which educational path they wish to take: academic or vocational, or a combination of both. Colleges have been uniquely placed to be able to offer a range of choices so that students follow the educational path that best suits their abilities and aspirations. This range is now seriously under threat.
Since incorporation there have been many different attempts to change the sector – all moving further away from the comprehensive ideal. The latest of these changes is embodied in the government’s White Paper on FE which maps out the direction for the sector over the next 10 years. Unfortunately it misses a golden opportunity to make a break with the past, and maintains a narrow focus: its emphasis on training and ‘vocationalisation’ of the curriculum aims to take FE colleges back to the 1960s, when Technical Colleges were largely training institutions for
Too often the government confuses the needs of employers with the needs of employment. The White Paper is tailored to the immediate needs of business survival and not the future needs of industry or the development of people as individuals.
We are for young people and adults being able to come out of FE with both training and a general education.
One of the most pernicious developments in the last number of years has been the way in which colleges have been made to cut so called ‘leisure courses’ back to the bone. Staff from around the country have told us that their college has cut all ‘non-vocational’ provision which in effect consists of courses people from local communities can attend simply for the pleasure of learning for its own sake. Indeed Alan Johnson, Education Minister, signalled the government’s intent to continue with the narrow vocationalism of FE when he said: ‘We want plumbing not Pilates.’
We say: We want both.
Stop the race to the bottom
With incorporation has come the introduction of the ‘market’ and the madness of competition; imposing private sector values on education, whereby one college has to compete with another for students and funding. The criterion of success for college management has become the extent to which they can outdo their competitors. Attempts to foster cooperation between institutions are constantly undermined by pressures to survive and prosper as businesses in the educational market place. All this is to the detriment of students seeking to enhance their lives and skills.
Furthermore it has led to an enormous waste of public money as college management duplicate service departments such as human resources and marketing and employ outside consultants to produce ineffective reports and audits.
With the narrowing of the role of FE and the incorporation of the sector, has come a serious deterioration in conditions for those who work in it: bullying management, increasing workload, pay struggling to keep up with inflation (whilst college principals have enjoyed salaries four or five times that of the highest paid main grade lecturer), job losses and the ever-growing army of casualised labour. Lecturers top the unpaid overtime league, leading to a ‘work–work’ balance which in turn has led to rising stress and sickness levels.
We believe the time has come to stop this race to the bottom. This Manifesto outlines our vision for Further Education in the 21st century. At its heart lie the interests of students, lecturers and local communities.
A broad curriculum
‘It is a paradox of today’s education system that we learn more but think less’ – 16 year old student.
The curriculum in all sectors is becoming vocationalised at the expense of a genuinely rounded general education. The obsession with exams and grades has forced students to follow narrowly based criteria to pass exams at the expense of developing the ability to think critically and be creative. There is often a false dichotomy within education between the vocational and the academic. We in the FE sector have a proud history of teaching and preparing young adults for employment as well as providing a wide range of opportunities for academic study.
However, the government’s narrow vocationalism has encouraged college management to close their GCSE and A level humanities provision and to discourage young adults from socially disadvantaged backgrounds from going to university. Furthermore this policy has led to the narrowing and dumbing down of vocational skills, and the knowledge that underpins them. The point of vocational education is to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in pursuit of whatever career or educational pathway they wish to pursue; to enable them to go beyond the boundaries that other educational experiences might have set out for them.
- Fees should be scrapped and all courses in FE should be free.
- Wider learning experiences should always be an integral part of a vocational curriculum; our students need to learn about their rights, the role of trade unions, citizenship, discrimination, participating in democracy and environmental issues.
- Bringing back democratic control of awarding bodies.
‘Contestability’ is the new buzz word within government committees, meaning privatisation through the back door. The logic of incorporation has led to a world where success is measured in terms of how many of the competitor colleges are sunk leading increasingly to exclusivity rather than inclusivity. Those colleges at the top of the league choose who they want to attract to their colleges; in effect employing a selective strategy.
We believe that the sector needs to be planned around an educational rationale as opposed to the rigours of competition. Colleges need to work, alongside all education sectors – nursery, school and universities- within a strategic plan which meets the needs of the whole community.
- The Further Education Sector to be brought back under the democratic control of local authority /regional bodies.
- Borough wide cross-sector education forums with representatives from: local unions, parents groups, student unions, community leaders and employers. Their role would be to map out the educational needs of the community and to develop a joint education sector plan.
The funding mechanisms that have been put in place since incorporation have reinforced competition amongst colleges. The Learning Skills Council (LSC) is the main funding body and is unaccountable. The Government claims that it is putting money into FE, but despite repeated pledges to match funding with schools, resources throughout FE simply do not bear comparison. When extra funds do come into the FE ‘pot’ it’s often not enough to keep up with inflation, and strings usually make forward planning impossible. Also we need to ensure that what increases there are in funding reach ‘frontline services’.
- Funding per student to match that in schools.
- There should be clear funding commitments to Further Education provision over a 10 year period, not the stop-start approach currently adopted.
- National government should place all LSC funding bodies back under the democratic control of local authorities/regional bodies. In London we propose this should be done via the Mayoral office and the Greater London Assembly to facilitate effective strategic planning.
Since incorporation colleges have increasingly been run by highly paid executives, many of whom have very little or no educational experience. They are only accountable to unelected quangos where decisions are made to fit the vested interests of those who run the college. The absence of any meaningful consultation with staff over curriculum issues and the general running of colleges has become the norm.
- All governing bodies should have representation based on: 25% local community leaders; 25% local employers; 25% staff /union; 25% students.
- There should be student representation on all leading bodies throughout the college, student unions should be allowed to organise independently of college management and to make their own decisions without management vetoes.
- College unions to be included in all management recruitment procedures.
- Union representation on all college committees to include: academic boards; curriculum and quality committees; employment policy committees and finance committees.
Workload and bureaucracy
What followed incorporation was a spiralling upwards of teaching hours and an increase in paperwork. Administrative burdens continue to mount year-on-year, eating up teaching and preparation time. Alongside this has come a growing and complex managerial structure to police the whole operation.
Ofsted Inspections have become a nightmare for all those working in the sector and have no educational value whatsoever. Staff spend the 4 months running up to an inspection in an atmosphere of fear and panic. Students’ education can suffer during these months, as it can in the exhaustion following inspection.
Alongside the increase in workload and bureaucracy, lecturers have been faced with increased duties, fewer remission hours and more ill health. Predictably those who end up suffering the most in this situation are the students, who are faced with tired and harassed staff who do not have the time to spend with their students.
- A lecturer’s teaching hours should be no more than 19 hours a week.
- Ofsted (and its new mutation Ofsecs) should be abolished and replaced with self-inspection and learner evaluation based on a negotiated developmental approach. This would counter some management’s interpretation of ‘light touch’ self inspection which has been used to develop further punitive measures.
- Struggling colleges should be encouraged to twin with stronger ones to gain experience and exchange best practice.
- Entitlement to paid sabbatical every 7 years (as under ILEA).
- Paid peer observation, mentoring and professional training.
Not only do FE lecturers lack parity with school teachers ( they are paid 10% less than school teachers and in London lecturers on top of the scale are paid £3,000 less than their counterparts in schools), within the sector itself there is growing disparity over pay. Despite an agreement reached with the AOC over the harmonisation of the pay scales, only 51% of colleges have implemented it. In reality very few of the deals agreed between the national union and the AOC ever get implemented by the colleges. This has led to more local bargaining which has created an increasingly wide disparity in pay, hours, holidays and other conditions.
The government needs to understand that they will not be able to re-skill and re-educate the nation with an underpaid and neglected workforce.
- Parity with school teachers.
- National negotiated agreements must be legally binding on all colleges.
- London weighting to be comparable with rates of other public sector workers (teachers, police, firefighters).
One of the most abhorrent developments within FE since incorporation has been the growth of casualised labour. The sector has the second highest amount of hourly paid staff in the country (60%; the catering industry leads the poll). How these lecturers are treated within FE symbolises all that is wrong with the way the sector is run. Recruiting an army of cheap ‘flexible’ workers, disproportionately women and workers from ethnic backgrounds who are often not given adequate training, reveals the emptiness of the words of those running the sector when they say they have the students’ interests at the centre of their educational policy.
- The use of fixed-term/variable hourly-paid contracts for ongoing work should be abolished immediately in line with the European directive which became law on 13th July 2006.
- All colleges must commit to a rolling programme of fractionalisation which aims to convert all regularly employed hourly paid staff to salaried employees over a two year period.
- All agency staff to be offered direct employment contracts.
- Full training with 5 hours remission a week to be given to all employees (HPL and salaried) to gain level 4 teaching qualifications.
Colleges for the community
We believe that colleges must be responsive to all those who live and work in a local community: pensioners, young adults, faith groups, cultural groups, families and local employers. A community based college is a place where people of that community come to gain qualifications, to learn a trade, gain skills or learn simply for fun. It needs to become a centre which all the community feel belongs to them.
- Regular feedback forums and outreach with local groups exploring the real educational needs of all in the community.
- Ensuring that employers take the educational needs of their employees seriously. They should be given a statutory right to paid educational leave and to workplace training committees. Trade unions must be given negotiating rights for education and training.
Colleges teach students from some of the most deprived areas. They are also the main provider of post-16 learning for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. During 2005/6, 400,000 students declared themselves as having a learning difficulty and/or disability. Also 15% of students are from black or ethnic backgrounds (black and ethnic minorities make up 8% of the population as a whole). However only 6% of the FE workforce comes from a black or ethnic background and only 2% are principals. This has to change if colleges are really going to be able to represent and meet our students’ and staff’s needs.
- Regular professional development days for black and ethnic minority staff.
- Cross college liaison teams to facilitate the removal of barriers to participation.
- Equivalent overseas qualifications to be recognised.
- Students (ICT) systems to monitor black and ethnic minority achievement.
- Full and adequate creche provision for all staff and student.
- A thorough trade union/management/ student audit of all colleges to ensure that they are fully compliant with the latest disability legislation.
- Trade unions /management/students to monitor colleges to ensure that they are compliant with The Gender Recognition Act, The Race Relations Amendment Act and The Age Discrimination Regulations ensuring that discrimination and bullying in workplaces is stamped out and positive duties are set.
Social inclusion is central to the aims of FE: women make up 61% of adult learners and 15% are from ethnic backgrounds. However the government have launched a massive attack on adult learning provision in colleges and local authority services fundamentally damaging colleges’ contribution to social inclusion. They have spoken a lot about ‘life-long learning’ but are slashing the adult learning budget by 7% to prioritise the skills needs of 16-18 year olds. This will lead to a loss of half a million adult places by 2007/8 and thousands of jobs. Adult learners’ provision for the over 60s has been cut by 25%; adults make up 80% of FE but only 50% of the teaching is for adults. Adult ESOL courses are especially in the firing line as the government have announced proposals to cut funding for courses in FE.
- Reverse the cuts in Adult learning.
- Adult learning to be given equal funding status with other provision.
- Asylum Seekers to be given the right to free education.
How to use this Manifesto
The idea behind the manifesto is to raise the profile of the Further Education sector and to provide an alternative to the vision offered by the government. You should not feel that you have to agree with every idea put forward in this manifesto before you can put your name to it. We hope it will form the basis for a much needed debate about the role and future of the sector.
- Raise the manifesto alongside every campaign about redundancies, pay, course closures etc.
- Get as many of your colleagues as possible to sign. Raise it in your local UCU branch and Region and ask them to be a sponsor of the manifesto.
- Go into your local communities and ask your local MP, councillor and local community leaders to sign up to the manifesto.