You are right to draw attention to the length of the further education dispute, and my wish to reach a satisfactory national agreement for further education lecturing staff. (THES, May 26). A settlement of the dispute with Natfhe would bring an end to the turmoil that has affected the entire system involving all who work and study in colleges. It will also provide an opportunity for the colleges to deliver without internal discord a service which is vital for the future of the country, as well as providing enhanced educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women.
Last September, two months after taking up my post, I signed a statement with the College Employers Forum which suspended action during enrolment week. The CEF agreed that it would embark on a series of meetings to try and reach a mutual framework agreement, embracing flexibility, productivity and necessary safeguards. However, within weeks it offered us more than 1,000 hours of teaching for lecturing staff as compared with the existing Silver Book provision for 756. This was a ludicrous offer and clearly could form no basis for a settlement. It had many principals themselves wondering whether the CEF were seriously interested in a national agreement.
Since that time Natfhe's position has been that we would wish to have a national settlement of the dispute, but the CEF has been unable to put forward any evidence that it would be willing to discuss with us reasonable contractual workload limits. Repeatedly Natfhe has tried to get the CEF to move on this matter, but repeatedly has failed.
This brings me on to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers/CEF agreement reached under Acas. Natfhe went to Acas when it was satisfied that key elements of concern to us would be on the table for discussion. These were that weekly hours would be discussed as well as annual hours and that there was a possibility of an agreement for all post holders. The last CEF offer put to us in Acas had a final figure of 940 for the year 1996/97. When Natfhe decided that there was no basis to continue discussions with the CEF a deal was done with the ATL which has a figure of 886 as its upper limit for Silver Book holders en route to a "professional" contract.
The ATL/CEF agreement fails to provide adequate contractual safeguards for teaching hours. Most of the agreement applies to Silver Book holders only. Weekly teaching hours commencing September 1996 in the agreement are expressed as 23 to hours "over all academic staff". Because it is based on the college as a whole, individual staff will be required to work much more than hours. Coupled with the annual hours that are specified in the agreement with a maximum of 886 hours in 1996/97, the workload under this agreement for college lecturers is clearly excessive. Those who have been forced into accepting new contracts know only too well how overload impairs the quality of education and their overall health.
This is not a settlement that will bring peace to the sector, nor will it lead to a return to harmonious relations in the colleges. It will assist in demoralising the workforce. Lecturers will only consider such an agreement if they are threatened with management threats or the sack. It cannot seriously be offered as a deal to settle the dispute.
There are many issues at the moment upon which Natfhe wishes to deploy its professional expertise for the good of the sector. It is a pity that a golden opportunity has been thrown away by the CEF to deal actively with the crucial issue for the sector - reasonable workload protection for lecturers.
General secretary, Natfhe