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Update on college pay talks

11 May 2023

Ao C News

The National Joint Forum (NJF) between the Association of Colleges and the unions representing FE staff met today (Thursday 11 May). AoC reiterated it is not yet ready to make a pay recommendation because there is not enough funding to ensure pay at least matches the deal offered to schools. The pay gap between teachers in colleges compared to their colleagues in schools is at least £8,000 a year and there are gaps for other staff too.

Speaking after the second meeting, AoC chief executive David Hughes said: “There is broad agreement between employer and staff representatives about the need to improve pay. Our formal response last month set out clearly that the union claim for over 15% is not at all unreasonable given the gaps in pay college staff face compared with schools and with industry. Colleges want to pay their staff more to reflect their valuable contribution to students, their hard work and the impact they have.

"Making a pay recommendation now would essentially let the government off the hook by either making a recommendation that colleges cannot afford or one that is far from adequate. We recognise the enormous pressure on staff caused by high inflation and the cost of living and that is why we are making the case to the Treasury and the DfE for a package of measures to increase college staff pay.

"Currently, there is simply not the revenue funding available to colleges to offer anywhere near what the unions are asking for. After my recent meetings with the Education Secretary and the Skills Minister, I am confident they have heard this message and it is now for them and their officials to persuade the Chancellor.

“It is perfectly reasonable for staff to demand a 15% pay rise to help close the pay gap between teachers and support staff in schools and colleges. Staff in colleges should not be penalised simply because their students are over the age of 16 and the gap will only widen unless the Department for Education provides further funding. This is an urgent issue, not least because many college staff could earn more in industry but also because colleges are struggling now to recruit and retain staff to deliver in key sectors like construction and healthcare and on the government’s priorities including T Levels.

“Last year’s reclassification of colleges to the public sector allows the government to zero rate colleges for VAT, just like they do for schools, which would inject around £200 million annually into college income. Additionally, the government should also provide a guarantor letter to local government pension schemes, as they do for academies, which would lead to a lower contribution rate for colleges, providing direct savings. These two measures alone would support colleges to boost staff pay, however we are also pushing for additional funding, like the settlement which has been offered to schoolteachers.

“Talks with unions continue and we will work hard with stakeholders in and out of government to support better pay. In the meantime, I would urge union branches not to schedule strike action which aims to disrupt students as they come into college for their exams this summer. This is already a stressful time of year for students. Asking students to walk through picket lines when they are calmly trying to prepare for their exams is unfair and unnecessary and can be avoided by the unions.

“Boosting growth, bolstering productivity, and broadening inclusion can only happen if colleges are successful and successful colleges rely on recruiting and retaining talented teachers and support staff at the right pay. If the government fails to act to support college staff then it is clear ministers are not serious about fixing the economy.

"We are keen to meet again with the unions to progress our joint work to persuade government for more funding and hope that if funding is secured we can quickly move to make a recommendation which improves pay markedly. College staff deserve to know as soon as possible what is happening to their pay.”