Further education college managers struck at the heart of lecturers' pay claims this week, just as union chiefs lobbied MPs to back their demands.
In a briefing to members, the Association of Colleges denied there was any significant pay gap between further education lecturers and school teachers, despite earlier pledges to bring further education teaching salaries up to school levels by 2004.
The briefing says the average pay for a college lecturer in England is about £25,000, and adds: "Historically, lecturers were, however, paid some 7 per cent more than school teachers. It is this differential in pay that has been eroded in the past few years."
The new line of attack from the AoC follows lecturers' union Natfhe's rejection of a 3.7 per cent pay offer and the union's continued threat of a two-day strike in October unless more money is found to help lecturers' pay "catch up" with that of school teachers.
It comes as a blow to Natfhe's hopes for a joint lobby of ministers with the AoC to strengthen its case for more funding to back better pay awards.
Union leaders met with MPs on Tuesday to promote their claim.
Paul Mackney, Natfhe's general secretary, said: "It's a shame that the AoC is taking this line, after talking about bringing forward recommendations for increasing lecturers' pay to school-teacher levels by 2004. We asked them to share their figures with us, but so far they have refused.
"The figures we have seen show that full-time lecturers, on average, receive £22,500 per year, while part-timers who do 30 per cent of the teaching get a pro rata full-time equivalent of just £14,000. I don't think you will find any school teacher earning as little as that."
The AoC briefing condemns Natfhe's demand for a flat-rate £3,000 pay rise for lecturers, claiming it would cost £2 million per college on average, and would threaten staff jobs and student services.
Natfhe will recommend rejection of the pay offer to its further education committee tomorrow.