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A New Deal for FE

14 May 2024

ʵ is at a critical point in FE. The union at employer level continues to grow in organisational capacity, bargaining strength and confidence and is winning for members on pay and other terms and conditions. However, the rate of growth and depth of our capacity and density is unevenly distributed.

The Respect FE campaign, built on the union's experiences in recent years, is about laying the foundations for a New Deal for FE. It covers pay, workloads, and national bargaining. It represents a fundamental challenge to the status quo at college and sector level. It resonates with members, has traction with the core activist group but is actively resisted by the AoC and a wide range of college leaders as it is a direct threat to their power and control.

  • National bargaining (in England) does not function. It has failed to meet the aspirations and demands of members and needs fundamental change. The national FE bargaining framework and agreement (NJF) is specifically set up to result in recommendations not binding collective agreements.
  • Since FE incorporation in the early 1990's FE colleges and college groups have been autonomous legal entities covered by legislation and regulation with their own governance arrangements. It is at this level, not the national level, where the power lays.
  • The UK government, via the DfE has an arm's length relationship with the sector. The various funding streams have a range of conditionalities attached to them, often linked to government policy priorities, such as skills and employment initiatives.
  • The DfE has no role in setting terms and conditions or pay in FE. The DfE are not part of the NJF. The DfE position and by extension the position of the UK government is that pay and related matters are legally devolved to each FE corporation.
  • FE funding is complex and distributed via mechanisms covering 16-19, Adult and Community Education, ESOL, apprenticeships, skills, BTEC and T-Level. It is also a source of control for the UK government and other agencies with whom ʵ does not negotiate.
  • Any fundamental change to the status quo within the sector and a potential new deal for FE in line with ʵ aspirations must recognise and be able to strategically react to the existing structural, legal, and power realities.

A New Deal for FE - poster The central premise of a New Deal for FE is that ʵ is not yet ready to achieve fundamental change at sector level and any precipitate move, specifically an aggregate ballot on national bargaining in 2024, will most probably take the union and our strategic demands backwards rather than forward.

Instead of committing the union's resources on an aggregate ballot now, we should be actively focusing on continuing to build branch capacity and membership density and continue to build confidence by winning for members at branch level. The campaign needs to be built through all the unions' structures, so that the decisions of the FE Sector Conference and the FEC are anchored in what the union does not have a reasonable prospect of securing at this time. Members must be regularly engaged and consulted as must the branch reps.

The unions comms, campaigning and political lobbying work should be clear and consistent in articulating and explaining what the New Deal for FE is and use all means at our disposal to champion and repeat the core demands.

We should be bold and ambitious and shift resources to build the biggest unified campaign rather than move to an aggregate ballot that does not have the building blocks in place at this time.

Resources A New Deal for FE - roundel

A New Deal for FE - poster [1mb]

A New Deal for FE - leaflet [219kb]

Background information

Report on ʵ special FE sector conference, 13 April 2024

Further education unions' pay claim 2024/25

Last updated: 12 June 2024