The sixth form colleges in Greater Manchester where staff are going on strike in pay dispute

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Industrial action is taking place on Wednesday after what the trade union involved has described as an ‘inadequate’ pay offer.

Staff at sixth form colleges across Greater Manchester are taking part in a day of industrial action as part of a dispute over pay. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) are walking out on Wednesday (30 November) after what the trade union described as an “inadequate” pay offer was tabled.

The union says the current levels of inflation make the pay offer unacceptable and says the sector has seen real-terms pay cuts over the past decade or so. The Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) has said the sector is under-resourced compared to schools, with the Government being put under pressure to put more cash into sixth forms.

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Which sixth form colleges is strike action taking place at?

There are 10 sixth form colleges across Greater Manchester where strike action is taking place on Wednesday (30 November). They are:

- Ashton Sixth Form College, Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside.

- Aquinas College, Stockport,

- Bolton Sixth Form College (the town centre campus),

- Holy Cross College, Bury,

- Loreto College, Hulme, Manchester,

- Oldham Sixth Form College,

- Rochdale Sixth Form College,

- St John Rigby RC Sixth Form College, Orrell, Wigan,

- Winstanley College, Billinge, Wigan,

- Xaverian College, Manchester.

In total there are 77 sixth form colleges across England where industrial action is happening, 16 of them in the North West.

Why are staff at these sixth form colleges going on strike?

The NEU’s members have voted for strike action over a pay offer from the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) which the trade union has described as “inadequate”. In a statutory ballot 88.5% of those who voted were in favour of going ahead with industrial action.

The union says the rejected pay offer would see most of its members only get a 5% pay rise, with some getting an 8.9% award. However, the union says teachers in sixth form colleges have had a 20% real-terms pay cut since 2010. The NEU said the minister for education needs to commit to funding the sector properly and give those working in it a pay rise which is above the level of inflation.

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The union also wants to see proper recognition that teachers in sixth form colleges are specialists, delivering both academic and vocational subjects through a mixture of A Level, T Level and BTEC courses.

What has the union said?

Peter Middleman, regional secretary of the NEU, said: “The Chancellor’s latest budget statement on 17 November did nothing to address the problems with historic low-pay and under-funding in the post-16 sector.

“Like in primary and secondary schools, dedicated professionals in sixth-form colleges, who are preparing young people for the world of further study, vocational advancement and a challenging modern economy, are being rewarded for their efforts with the largest real-terms pay cut in living memory and this is something our members are simply unwilling to tolerate from a government of millionaires and billionaires. The strength of the mandate for the strike speaks volumes: enough is enough.

“If the government led by Rishi Sunak is serious about a post-Brexit and post-pandemic recovery being based on rich knowledge and high skills, we need to see immediate evidence that they are prepared to release significant funding in order to help save the sector and ensure current and future generations have the same choice and opportunity for study that those presiding over the sector had in their own teenage years.”

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What has the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the Government said?

The SFCA agreed that not enough money has been put into the sector while saying the prospect of strike action was “disappointing”. The association’s chief executive Bill Watkin said: “Sixth form colleges recognise the extraordinary efforts made by teachers and support staff to look after young people throughout the Covid pandemic, and to continue providing a high quality education in the face of enormous difficulties.

“Teachers’ and support staff salaries are being eroded, as energy costs and other inflationary pressures increase, but the government funds sixth form colleges at a lower level than schools, universities and other colleges, and sixth form colleges simply do not have the resources to meet demands for such a high pay rise.

“It is disappointing that a generation of young people, who had their education so disrupted by Covid, now risks losing yet more time in the classroom, on the sports field and with staff whose job is to support their mental health and emotional well-being. In spite of ongoing hardships and inadequate funding, colleges are determined to go on doing all that they can to provide a safe and stimulating environment for young people to come and learn together.”

The Department for Education (DfE) said it was up to individual sixth form colleges to set pay and the Government was investing an extra £1.6 billion in 16-to-19 education and training in 2024-5, compared to 2021-22. It said this would include sixth forms. Funding for colleges for the coming academic year in 2023-4 are currently being discussed and will be announced soon, the DfE added.

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