#LoveOurColleges march makes its mark

The #LoveOurColleges march to Westminster on October 17th was a fantastic day which saw staff, students, the AoC, Principals and Trade Unions all marching together to tell Parliament we have had enough of being education’s poor relation.

Even the rain did not dampen the determination of all those present to make our voices heard.

I was really pleased to have the chance to be one of the NEU representatives able to speak at the rally alongside our Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted and other speakers such as AoC’s David Hughes, NUS President Shakira Martin, UCU President Vicky Knight and MPs Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn, Layla Moran and Caroline Lucas.

I think we made the point that we expect to be funded properly and we are not going away.

I’ve included what I said below – I hope those “in that building over there” got the message!

“Colleges offer so much to so many and I’m very proud today, exactly 21 years since I started teaching in an FE College, that I have chance to speak out for our sector.  

FE Colleges have been the poor relation for far too long.  

Today they are working together.  

They are demanding the respect they deserve and telling the Government to stop pretending that they value us. 

We all know the problem is that there is just not enough money in the post-16 pot and all involved in FE are paying a very high price for that lack of investment. 

Staff are being driven into the ground as their numbers are cut 

Some find themselves being made redundant and those left behind after restructures can suffer both physical and mental illness trying to cope in diminished departments. 

These staff have endured declining pay over the last decade suffering a pay cut of 25% and being paid an average of £7,000 less than teachers in schools. 

(And that is if they are lucky enough to have something resembling a decent contract because those on a variable hours or temporary contract are in an even worse position!) 

Managers are being forced to make harsh decisions because FE is just not properly funded and we are now seeing Colleges in very serious financial difficulties threatening their futures. 

And what about our learners? 

I’ve taught students who have started on Level 2 courses and ended up with honours degrees – they’re now in good jobs and careers. 

I’ve seen students blossom in a way they never did at school because the courses colleges offer can meet a huge variety of needs.  

Colleges are not “One size fits all”. 

Whatever course you choose, a properly-funded college is a special place where dreams really can come true. 

And those dreams should be available to anyone – whether the students are aged 16 or 60 should not matter. 

But, I’ll tell you what really does matter.  

FE matters. 

2.2 million people a year studying in the FE sector matter. 

And every member of staff supporting those students matters. 

What matters right now is that our message is heard loud and clear in that building over there.  

The FE sector has finally woken from its slumber and we will no longer be ignored. 

Let there be no mistake. 

  • We want our staff to be paid properly. 
  • We want our courses to be funded properly . 
  • We want our students to be supported properly. 
  • And we want it now!

#JWhiteley4NEUPost16