Further Education Committee (FEC) Report 26 February

The meeting began with a 1 minute silence for Donna Coleman, a longstanding UCU member at Burnley College. She died last month after contracting Covid. She was just 42 years old. This was a painful reminder of what is at stake. Condolences to her friends, family and colleagues. 

Read UCU’s report.

8 March

The FEC met in the wake of the announcement by the Prime Minister that we are on ‘one road to freedom’ with the reopening of schools and colleges from the 8th of March. 

The outcome of this decision is entirely predictable. There are over 14,000 people in hospital and over 123k deaths in the UK. There are only three weeks to go until the Easter that could be an important fire break. Now is not the time to drop our guard and allow a resurgence of the virus. 

We were provided with a verbal report from UCU’s health and Safety Officer with links to updated advice. 

Branch officers are advised to convene members meetings urgently. UCU has written to College leaders seeking urgent agreement with local reps on phased reopening plans. We should approach management and seek to negotiate and agree a phased return with a willing and able policy and limits on numbers of students returning. Where agreement cannot be reached branches are encouraged to use UCU’s escalation guidelines. 

Members can submit section 44 letters to refuse to work on site if they are not reassured of their safety via those agreements and to avoid imminent and real danger. 

Covid-19 guidance for branches: update of risk assessments
Updated UCU H&S guidance

Branches can click here for the latest action note on emerging Covid-19 risk factors and advice for reviewing and updating risk assessments.

Updated government guidance

The DFE guidance on college reopening have some important provisos. For example, colleges can delay teaching by a week while tests are carried out. Students do not need to be onsite for all their hours, only a majority of their contact hours. That could mean 51% with the rest remote. Colleges have a duty to protect vulnerable staff and limit the spread of infection.

London region hosting briefing for reps and members

UCU London region has an official meeting called for Tuesday 2 March at 6pm

For reps and members to discuss how we respond to the call to return to work. 

Register here.

Solidarity with disputes

There are significant disputes in further, adult and prison education that were reported to FEC. Chicester branch won their consultative ballot and are waiting for the outcome of statutory ballot in defence of English and maths teachers jobs. 

United Colleges Group in in dispute over contracts and won their consultative ballot. 

Novus prisons branch are in dispute in pursuit of agreements on safe working in Prisons. FEC unanimously passed a motion calling for the full support of the General Secretary and for the union members to access the fighting fund should they take industrial action. 

The six further education branches in Northern Ireland have served notice of a major national ballot. This has been lodged against the employers and the Minister for Economy and Employers in opposition to over a decade of pay restraint and inadequate pay and funding. If they are successful they could take strike action as early as March 25th. 

Pay

Despite heaping on praise for all our hard during the pandemic to support students and risk our health and lives. The AoC has recommended a pay award of just 1% this year. A slap in the face and a complete own goal at a time when government are highlighting our critical work. Now should be the time to speak up for the sector. 

In contrast, lecturers in Wales have been awarded 2.75% for the top of the pay scales, with the majority of lecturers receiving 3.75%, and an uplift of 8.48% for new starters.

A paper was introduced to the committee by Andrew Harden, Head of Further Education, on England FE Pay in 2020/21 on how to implement the recommendations of the Further Education Sector Conference (FESC) that met at the end of last year to advance our claim to make up the 30% decline in our pay. 

The FESC voted to endorse recommendations for a national indicative ballot on taking industrial action with a recommendation to vote YES to industrial action and produce a timeline for the campaign. 

Andrew Harden, Head of FE, reported the FEC officers had drawn up a timetable to launch the pay campaign that will begin in March. 

FEC members were asked to vote on recommendations. 

Option 1 – all FE branches to be included in the consultative ballot.

Option 2 – effectively asked for branches to opt in if they wished. 

The FEC unanimously voted to support option 1. 

This was an important decision to ensure we have a national campaign with sufficient weight and scale for our voices to be heard in government. 

The government correctly identify FE as critical to the post-covid recovery. For that to happen central government must make good on their promises to fund the sector and improve our pay. For the campaign to be a success we should focus first on government, then the AoC to back us, and for local employers following through on their commitments to pay inline with the #MissingMillions campaign. 

A motion brought by London based delegates followed that sought to clarify how to use the consultative ballot to prepare the way for a statutory ballot. That branches achieving at least 30% turn out in the consultation should be included in the statutory ballot automatically. For many branches it would not take much to use the consultation to map out how to succeed in a statutory ballot. 

Unfortunately some of the FEC delegates (IBL members) opposed the motion arguing branches are sovereign and should be allowed to opt out of a ballot. This does not fundamentally change the campaign as the committee unanimously endorsed the recommendations set out above. But it does raise important questions about union democracy. 

Should branches be entitled to opt out of policies opposing discrimination of women and racism in the workplace? How could we defend pensions or pay if branches were encouraged to opt out? National Congress and Sector Conference are the sovereign decision making bodies for the union and their decisions are binding on branches. That is only way we can operate democratically as a national and UK wide union.

UCU will write to branches outlining how to take the pay campaign forward.

UCU will host a series of webinars as part of the pay campaign including one to #RebuildFE.

Funding

A motion was unanimously supported that will go for decision to sector conference calling for full funding for Covid-19 education and support, including mental health support, that noted the ‘government cannot be allowed to get away with expecting staff in these sectors to paper over society’s cracks when they are not adequately paid and the funding for provision is not adequate.’ 

A further motion was unanimously passed to go to sector conference on adult education.  It calls on the FESC to support the Select Committee report and its calls for a community learning centre in every town in the country and national strategy for adult education and for childcare, ESOL and SEND Adult Education, IAG. We agreed to invite the Select committee to work with FESC by organising a parliamentary committee meeting. And to discuss the Reconstruction of Further and adult education paper and the Adult Community education Manifesto as part of the wider discussions.

You can read the report here

Black Lives Matter

The FEC supported a motion to conference to call on Principals to meet with UCU to revise the FE curricula so that it embraces all Black history with inclusion of colonial history. And to call a “decolonisation of FE” Conference which seeks to work with Principals and UCU members.

Wales Report

In addition to reports on the successful pay claim. The government have agreed with the education union demands for free school meals to be funded to Easter 2022. UCU FE Manifesto has been distributed ahead of upcoming elections. 

Anti-casualisation conference

The forth coming annual meeting of staff on casualised contracts is scheduled for 13 March. 

In addition to branch delegates, individuals can self-register via this link

Deadline to register is Friday 5 March.

FE White Paper

There will be a session on the FE White paper and the alternatives at the annual Cradle to Grave Education Conference.

Details should appear here in UCU events calendar soon

There is an excellent document endorsed by the FEC that can be found here 

Summer exams cancelled – Centre Assessed Grades

There were 100,000 responses to the government consultation on cancelled summer exams and 3000 on vocational qualifications. 

On the whole these were quite good. 

There is no requirement for minimum contact time.  Exams boards with provide optional material to base assessment on. This will form just a part of any evidence. There is no compulsory requirement for colleges to provide alternative mini-exams or for those materials to be used under timed conditions. There are no quotes on how many students grades.

Colleges should now be consulting with local trade unions on how to implement these decisions. We must prevent any further damage to our students mental health through unnecessary examinations. We need careful consideration of the impact on the workload and stress when producing Centre Assessed Grades. Colleges should schedule inset days to consult staff and plan SOWs to organise our work. We will also need additional days off of timetable to mark work and submit evidence to support students achievement. The exam boards have given a deadline of June 18th.    

Pearson, a large provider of BTEC and GCSE qualifications among others, are undertaking a major project on future assessments. That is one to look for and if used properly could be an opportunity to break with the past for a truly engaging and relevant curriculum. 

F-Ofsted…

Unbelievably Oftsed are doing the rounds with monitoring visits and intend to resume inspections after Easter!This motion was passed unanimously calling for a national petition to be launched immediately. It is high time Ofsted heard exactly what we think of them. 

No return of Ofsted inspections

FEC Notes:

  1. Ofsted’s announcement that inspections would resume in the summer term.

FEC Believes:

  1. It is totally unnecessary for Ofsted to resume inspections at this moment of time.
  2. Ofsted inspections in normal times create stress and anxiety amongst teachers. To resume them in a pandemic will only reinforce rising anxieties leading to an increase in mental health problems.
  3. Ofsted inspections are always accompanied by an increase in workload and harassment of staff again leading to a rise in stress levels.
  4. Any visits that Ofsted undertake must be supportive to generalise best practice and not to inspect.

FEC Resolves:

  1. UCU to launch an online petition immediately calling upon Ofsted to halt any inspections until we are safely out of the pandemic.
  2. To support any branch that refuses to work with Ofsted when being inspected during the pandemic including deep dives and observations.
  3. To reaffirm UCU’s policy position of opposition to the existence of Ofsted in any press coverage.
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