College teachers in England call 10-day strike over pay

College students face a turbulent start to the new term after the industry union announced on Monday the “biggest strike action English further education has ever seen” in a dispute over pay.

The Union of Universities and Colleges, which represents college teachers, has announced 10 days of walkouts to take place at 26 colleges during September and October.

The strikes are the latest in a wave of industrial action to hit sectors from education to shipping this summer as workers grapple with soaring inflation outpacing wage growth.

The withdrawals, alongside continued pressure on college budgets, threaten to undermine the government’s flagship skills agenda, which seeks to increase the number of students being trained to boost national productivity.

The protests will begin on September 26, two days after members of the National Union of Education, which represents teachers in the UK, begin voting to gauge interest in whether to take strike action over pay.

In addition to the NEU ballot, university professors, locked in a long-running dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions, decide whether to go on further strike action in a ballot that closes at the end of October.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said its members were going on strike “because they cannot continue to be paid so little”.

College teachers are among the lowest paid in the education sector, with salaries ranging from £21,000 for unqualified recruits to £39,000 for more experienced roles.

“College staff provide an excellent education, but over the past 12 years their pay has fallen 35 percent relative to inflation,” Grady said. In July, UK inflation hit a 40-year high of 10.1%.

He added that college leaders would have to make a “serious pay offer” to persuade striking staff to quit.

The UCU said 58 per cent of its members took part in the vote, of which 90 per cent voted in favor of strike action.

Around 26 colleges from Cornwall to Lancashire can expect strikes from September 26 to October 20. A further nine colleges are on strike action, while three others in the north west of England this week walked out in separate pay action.

Unlike teachers’ salaries, which are set by the government, pay for further education teachers is set by individual colleges, on the recommendation of the Association of Colleges, a sector body.

This year, the AoC recommended a 2.5% pay rise, with a one-off increase for the lowest paid staff. This is half the 5 per cent rise for teachers announced by the Government, who are already paid around £9,000 more than college staff, according to the UCU.

A survey carried out by the AoC and the Financial Times this summer found that three quarters of colleges could not recruit the staff needed to teach the skills that are vital to supporting UK productivity. The majority said this was because candidates were offered better pay elsewhere.

David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, acknowledged the fee offer was “inadequate compared to inflation” but added it was “on the cusp” of what colleges struggling with energy costs and underfunding can afford. .

“College leaders want to increase staff pay, but the money just isn’t there,” he said. “Skills shortages are holding back growth and yet college pay is too low to attract and retain qualified teachers.”

Funding per pupil for 16- to 18-year-olds in English colleges fell by 14% in the decade from 2010, and funding for adult education fell by more than a third, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders, said employers were “in a difficult position” due to “intense and chronic” budget pressure.

“The responsibility for this situation lies squarely at the door of the government which has been underfunding colleges for many years,” he said.

The Ministry of Education declined to comment.

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