Market forces set an ugly agenda

May 17, 1996

On Monday April 29, nearly two years of national negotiations between the employers of adult education teachers - local authorities - and the university and college lecturers union, Natfhe, came to a close. The employers had demanded wholesale changes to holiday entitlement, the working week, notice of redundancy and the salary structure.

The proposals, which constitute a 41 per cent increase in productivity, would have a particularly serious impact on the thousands of part-time, hourly-paid staff who work for adult education services, and would threaten the quality of provision. Unprepared to make any concessions whatsoever, the employers abandoned the "Silver Book" - the national agreement on terms and conditions. Negotiations will now have to take place within each of the local authorities running adult education.

This hard-nosed approach from the (mainly) Labour-led education committees of the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities represents the same ugly side of post-compulsory education that has been created by the Tory privatisation of further and higher education. Here market forces determine all educational processes and thinking.

As this is Adult Learners' Week, if Tony Blair is to be believed in his pledges to the education world, then he should be ashamed of the treatment of those who provide a vast range of high-quality learning opportunities to adults. This year is also the European Year of Lifelong Learning. The morale, security, health and safety of key players in adult learning are under attack while their achievements are being celebrated by cynical employers.

Staff in adult education always pay for cuts in education spending on top of the suffering meted out to students. We call upon local authorities to protect a valued service by respecting their staff and striving for more funding. We also ask readers to express their concerns to their local elected members and to us, the disestablished elected union national negotiators.

ROGER SMITH (chair), ROSIE MARCUS, PAT PEACOCK Natfhe, Hull adult & continuing education branch, Anlaby High Road, Hull

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