East Sussex College Group teachers go on strike in row over pay

Teachers at East Sussex College Group took to picket lines today (January 29) in a strike calling for ‘fair pay’.

Staff from the group’s campuses in Eastbourne, Hastings, Lewes, and Newhaven protested with signs this morning which had messages like ‘teachers can’t live off apples’, ‘fair pay for teachers’, and ‘can’t exist on this’.

Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

Staff will also be striking tomorrow (January 30) from 8am.

The dispute centres on what the union says is the failure of colleges to make a decent pay offer to staff who have seen their pay decline by 25 per cent over the last decade.

The pay gap between schoolteachers and teachers in colleges is now £7,000, the union said.

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Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

But East Sussex College Group says the lack of funding from the Government for higher education has put a ‘huge strain’ on colleges.

Marcus Abel, a lecturer at the Eastbourne campus and chair of the ESCG branch of UCU, said: “Our pay has lagged massively behind secondary school and sixth form teachers. We’ve also had an increased workload and have lost many colleagues and support staff who have been made redundant.

“We have been given more work to do and have been given less pay. Pay of chief executives at colleges has risen three times faster than their staff.

“Teachers never do this lightly. We are out there defending the education of people’s sons and daughters. This is about pay and fairness but also the education of our young people.”

Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

Strike action at East Sussex College in Hastings - photo by Justin Lycett

‘Something’s gone badly wrong’

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said raised the issue of staff pay in Parliament last week and said the time had come to earmark funds specifically for college staff salaries.

Mr Lloyd said: “I spoke this week in Parliament, expressing my profound concerns at the systematic real term reductions in further education teachers’ salaries over the last ten years.

“All governments are culpable so, as I made clear, its time for all of us to press the Secretary of State to do the right thing.

“Invest properly in the sector and ear-mark additional funds for teachers’ salaries. When the average further education teacher is earning £7,000 less than a school teacher, something’s gone badly wrong.”

In the recent ballot, nine in ten (91 per cent) of UCU members who voted backed strike action.

The union said further strikes were planned if the college refused to make a decent offer and that it could not ‘hide behind government cuts’ if it wanted to avoid further disruption.

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The college group responds

Responding, a spokesperson from the College Group said: “The East Sussex College Group remains committed to working with the union to demand fairer FE funding from the Government.”

The college group’s chief executive officer Clive Cooke said government budget cuts have put a ‘huge strain’ on colleges and salaries.

He said, “We want to work with in partnership with our union colleagues to demand better Government investment in the further education sector. If we are joined up in our approach to Government, I believe we will have a greater chance of success.”

He encouraged people to sign a petition calling for fairer funding for the sector, which is available here.