Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 84)



  80. Are you saying there is no advantage?
  (Mr Mackney) There are some savings to be made. I am not going to pick an area or a college because I will be in great trouble. I can see a county in the Midlands where you have four colleges which could probably be three. I can see that in the big cities there is a value in getting all the parties together and looking at how to deal with it but we also have to end the voluntarism that we have on training with the employers. I was pleased to hear Gordon Brown say that the time has come to introduce paid educational leave and to roll out EMAs.
  (Ms McAnea) I think it would be a mistake to give up on general FE and to go down the road of having specialist colleges because I think we would end up with a situation where I would hate to see general FE colleges becoming the sink colleges. There is a possible tendency that might happen and also to some secondary schools as well. I think it would be a big mistake if the funding machine was fixed and was preferential only to the specialist colleges. It is inevitable that there will be some mergers and closures—like Paul I will not specify an area—and one of the reasons for that is we are still living with the legacy of the over-competition that we had a few years ago after incorporation.

  Chairman: I am conscious that Valerie Davey has to leave. Would you like to put your question, Valerie?

  Valerie Davey: I do have to go now, I am really sorry.

Paul Holmes

  81. Going back to the question of part-time staff can I ask about the agency staff in particular. The previous witnesses from the colleges said that it was not so much a problem with agency or part-time staff, it was how well the colleges worked with those staff. I know over the years there has been a huge outcry about the use of agency staff and the figures are hard to quantify. When I tried to ask a Parliamentary Question I was told "you cannot have that because Government does not collect those figures". Some colleges have up to 25 per cent of their staff who are agency staff. There has been a lot of criticism that this is casualisation of labour and they lose their rights to holidays and sickness and that sort of thing. Is the problem any better than it was five years ago or is it still as bad?
  (Mr Mackney) The problem may be worse than five years ago but getting better than one year ago because what is happening is that people are beginning to realise the limitations of agencies. One particular agency was established and promoted by the predecessor of the AoC, which they no longer do I hasten to add, which many colleges used and the reason they used it, and it was quite blatant at the time, was because the House of Lords' ruling in March 1994 gave part-time workers rights and the agency was a means of obviating those rights. If you looked at their website—since I made this point to the All Party Parliamentary Group I notice these pages have been removed from the website but I can supply you with copy—you would see that they said "You, as colleges, have the following responsibilities to employees even if they are part-time", about four pages of them, and the next page said "However, if you join up with us you will not have them". In terms of the employment relationship that immediately shows substantial disrespect to the staff. It has happened with support staff as well as teaching staff. In fact, it has happened more with teaching staff, probably to do with the level of expense. I do not think it is good for the students, not least because there is absolutely no security for them, they move from college to college. Many good people, I have to say, try to get work in FE through this way. It creates this revolving door effect where they think "I would like to be a professional, I have got a degree, I will try FE", they get work through an agency and then leave. A very good development in the last couple of years has been the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education which we, with the AoC and the FEFC and other partners, have established. It was fascinating to hear the young black staff who wanted to put something back—they had often got a second chance through colleges—describing their experience of working through agencies and what they felt this meant in terms of respect for them. There is no connection with the community of the college and these people. It is even worse than part-time for the staff because they are not employees, they come and do their lesson and leave. I am not against short-term use of agencies. We, as an employer, if we have got someone sick on reception for a period of time might call up an agency as other people do, but permanent use of agency staff is disrespectful to the staff and is disrespectful to the students. It means that many people are not pensioned and might have worked for five years at low rates of pay. The pro rata rate of pay is likely to be £13,000 or £14,000 a year for teachers, obviously lower for support staff. I think there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that the experience of the students is poor.
  (Ms McAnea) It is more of a crucial problem for teaching staff. One of the interesting things that has been done in some work looking at the use of agency staff is that it can often cost the college more to employ support staff through an agency whereas it can be cheaper to employ teachers through an agency. If they employ support staff through an agency they usually have to pay them quite a substantial fee, so it is much less of a problem. What is much more of a problem for us is the growth of outsourcing within the FE sector and what that has meant particularly to very low paid staff in the sector, the catering and care taking staff, who are often employed by the large private companies who come in and they are on substantially worse terms and conditions than those staff who are permanent employees of the college. That is a much greater problem for us.

  82. You said that there has been a slight improvement over a year ago. Why the improvement and what would you do to solve the problem?
  (Mr Mackney) I am afraid the problem in the end probably comes back to core funding. What every college management has had to do is look at NATFHE's list of ten unacceptable practices and perm two or three, or five if they are very poor, and introduce them as staffing policy. It does come back to core funding but it also comes back to ensuring that every teacher is qualified. It comes back to proper appointment and recruitment processes. There is still far too much of the mates of mates recruitment which has a discriminatory effect. If you have a white core staff and you say "Do you know anyone who can teach French?", they are likely to be white, or "Do you know anyone who can teach English?" or whatever, so there is a discriminatory effect there. Why has it changed slightly? Because in talking about TPI with the Government, the Teaching Pay Initiative, which should be extended to support staff and managers—If I can say one thing on the Teaching Pay Initiative. In schools it costs eight per cent plus of the staffing budget, for FE this year it is 2.6 per cent, so the gap is widening, next year it is four per cent, the year after it is 5.4 per cent, but the gap is still there. That is on top of the seven to ten per cent pay gap with schools. In the Teaching Pay Initiative when it became clear that it was not going to be the same as schools, one of the things we did not agree because it was not an agreement process, one of the things we discussed which came out in the final recommendations was use what money there is, the 2.6 per cent of the staffing budget, to address some of the problems you have got in your college and in particular part-time conversions, agency conversions, were featured, people getting qualifications were featured and a rediscovery of a career scale for senior lecturers, an extinct species in most colleges. Our TPI, to pre-empt a question you would not have had time for, is being used remedially. I am very pleased that we are remedying some of the problems but it is not being used to deal with the pay gap with schools. It is a bit like, as someone said earlier, yes, we are solving some problems but we have still got others to solve. That is why some people have been reducing ELS and the second reason is because of what comes through in these inspection reports, and you have got a couple of pages on that.


  83. We are drawing to the end of this session. We have learned a great deal. I have to put on the record that when I mentioned "whingeing" I really did that to put a former witness on their mettle. Everyone in the education sector has every right to complain, moan or whinge, do anything they like. I once said that my constituents in Huddersfield were born to whinge because they are so good at it but when they see progress they stop whingeing and you cannot find out who had been whingeing in the first place. Let me put you on your mettle in a different way and say to you, like to the other witnesses, you are the Secretary of State, what are the priorities? But do bear in mind, like the Secretary of State when we listen to evidence, I know you want better and more pay in HE and in FE. I am Chairman of this Committee, I know that to be the case, so you do not have to win me over. I also know that I want a lot of money spent on Sure Start because I think it is a very important initiative, I want more money spent on Educational Maintenance Allowances because that is so useful for keeping kids in the educational world, and I want more money for student support. Given all that, Paul and Christina, what are your quick views as Secretary of State, what are the priorities? I will give you up to three and no more.
  (Ms McAnea) Very similar to what other people have said but I would put more emphasis on some staff issues. One would have to be improved core funding and one of the reasons would be, just as an example, to look at Standards Fund money that has been set aside for staff development. On the circular that came out advising colleges how they could plan for this, of the different strands they can apply only one of them has anything in it for support staff, all the rest are exclusively teaching and management. That is mainly because it is coming through the Standards Fund and colleges cannot use core funding for some of these issues. I want to see decent core funding for colleges. Something that Paul has raised before, and we have raised, and even the AoC might support, would be to have a separate body which is gathering evidence and keeping evidence not just on pay and conditions, which is crucial, but staffing levels in colleges, who does what, and also one which will gather some information on training and development because I think that is another area that has been severely neglected within the FE sector. I would say that one of the key things I would want to see would be improved pay. This is an incredibly low paid sector and it is one of the reasons why there are such high turnover rates, it is one of the reasons why there are recruitment problems within the sector. Having said that, there is a strong bank of incredibly loyal staff who work for the FE sector and who are committed to working for the FE sector. Welcome as the TPI is, the Teaching Pay Initiative, we, with the AoC, are arguing very strongly to try and get a College Pay Initiative. We have been working over the summer to develop a College Pay Initiative. We would want to see something that goes across the board and increased funding that would cover all staff in FE. I will leave it at that.

  84. Thank you for that. Paul, the last point to you.
  (Mr Mackney) The Secretary of State is a Birmingham MP and that is where I lived for 25 years and they say that a true Brummie is born within the sound of moaning, so it goes with your comment about whingeing. I will try not to live up to that. What we want is a new gimmick, a new initiative, and that is fund the core. Forget about some of the gimmicks and the initiatives, that is the gimmick we want. We want people issuing press releases saying "we are funding the core" rather than "we are putting 30 million to this and 25 million to this". I know you cannot get as many press releases out of it but in the end you will get a lot more delivery in terms of students. Secondly, student support, both financial—there has been some discussion of that, I have not gone into it greatly—and academic or educational, and I have described the problems with staffing practices and timetabling practices and how that affects students. Also for adult learners in terms of paid educational leave, we really need something in that area. Somehow we are supposed to be getting 750,000 functionally literate and numerate and we have got to overcome the hurdles, barriers, etc., they have got. If those in employment were allowed one hour a week of employers' time, probably on classes called computing classes but which did literacy and numeracy as well, and one hour a week of their own time as some kind of statutory right, which would obviously be limited—we say five days a year which could be rolled together over three years—as happens in many other European countries, then we would begin to address it. The issue has been there ever since I was on the District Manpower Committee in the 1970s and I am sure it was there before. Student support is the second but I have highlighted paid educational leave. The third is deal with the problems of staff morale and that involves de-casualisation, bringing pay to the level of schools at least. Our policy is on a phased programme by September 2004, which does not seem to us to be an unreasonable programme. If I am allowed one element on staff morale, an FE Equality Commission to mirror the HE one because there are real problems of structural or institutional discrimination, maybe not deliberate, in FE which will continue to need to be addressed, not just in terms of pay but in terms of who gets what jobs and the fact that I think there are now four black principals but there were only two and if it mirrored the population there would have to be 26 and if it mirrored the student population there would have to be 66. We need to address those problems as well. Women's pay for both unions is a major problem. There is probably more discrimination in FE on women's pay than there is in industry.

  Chairman: Can I thank you both for that, we have learned a lot this morning. We have topped ourselves up on a great deal of knowledge. We will never think of yo-yos in quite the same way.

  Mr Shaw: Or fo-fos.

  Chairman: Thank you, again, it has been a good session and the Committee has had good and full answers to their questions. Thank you very much.

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