London based college worker Siobhan Breathnach writes about the top down nature of the UK public sector pensions dispute
We got notice of the 10th of May strike on a Friday afternoon ten days before, in the middle of an emergency meeting about redundancies. The first response was “They have got to be fucking kidding.” There was a general expression of dismay and disbelief. So what is the problem? Why weren’t we pleased about being called out? Continue reading “why the phony war?”→
Dave Spencer explores the reasons for working-class under-achievement in the British education system.
There is an iron law in the sociology of education which states that the working class in Britain do badly in the education system. A recent study by the Sutton Trust should therefore come as no surprise. It found that over 2007-9 five elite private schools sent 946 students to Oxbridge whereas 2,000 comprehensives sent 927 between them. No surprise too at the recent UCU survey of educational attainment in various parliamentary constituencies. They found that 12.1% of people have no qualifications and 29% have degree level or above. But this varied considerably from area to area with some working-class areas having over 30% with no qualifications.
The basic question of course is – why do the working class do so badly? At one time there was a straightforward argument between Nature and Nurture, genetics or environment. It is difficult to argue these days, as some psychologists did in the 1960s, that the reason women and blacks did badly in the education system and society in general is because they are less intelligent. But many people still assume that the reason working class children do badly in the education system is because genetically they do not have the ability. Elitism or the idea that the people at the top of our class hierarchy are there because they are more intelligent is still alive and well. Just look at the smug buggers on the Coalition front bench! Continue reading “why is there class in the classroom?”→
College worker Siobhan Evans reflects on a hard-fought struggle against redundancies in her workplace.
A few months ago management in our college announced that 88 teaching and learning support staff (about 20% of the total) were “at risk of redundancy”. Now, after months of struggle and direct action, the redundancies have been withdrawn.
The college, in a poor area of London, has been badly affected by funding cuts. To give a concrete example, there are massive cuts in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Until recently ESOL was free. The department had about a thousand students. They were mostly people out of work or on low incomes, often with health problems and housing problems. Fees were introduced about four years ago for any students who were not recieving benefits, and since then the number of students has halved. Now even worse restrictions have been introduced which mean that the only students able to get free classes are those on jobseekers and other active benefits, so again more students, mostly women, will be excluded. The Save ESOL campaign calculate that 99,000 people, more than half of all ESOL students, will lose their free classes. To make matters worse the jobcentre harrass the students who are eligible and often force them off our courses because they are studying too many hours. Continue reading “‘something out of the ordinary’”→
Daniel Harvey looks at New College of the Humanities, AC Grayling’s private ‘university’
I remember a time, not very long ago, despite seeming it, when a young student stood up to give a speech at a debate on the necessity of the New Atheism at his college. The speech ranged through all the usual canards thrown at the religious, the cruelty of nature, the unnecessary suffering in the world, the emptiness of the universe. Of course, this student devotee of Richard Dawkins, Grayling, PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens (shoot me now), was myself, and in that vain, naïve enthusiasm even, remained until the day I discovered that this was about as intellectually fulfilling as squashing ants.
But this feature of the atheist calling has always been fascinating – why so much time and effort spent on continually stomping on the face of the religious phenomenon, when it is so easy to do? Of course, you ask any followers of Richard Dawkins who attended his ‘talk’ which I happily raided with some comrades the other day, and what will come back is a stream words about the threat of ‘accomodationism’, about the fact religion is so powerful, growing, spreading its tentacles into education, and practically undermining the entire Enlightenment. But for one of the original founders of this movement H. L. Mencken, the great liberal journalist and commentator on the Scopes Trial, religion was more than this, it was the possession of the ‘immortal scum’ of human history, a whole layer of society that always threatened to overwhelm the elite, intelligent minority. In intellectual circles he said, all that “survives under the name of Christianity, above the stratum of that mob, is no more than a sort of Humanism, with a little more supernaturalism in it than you will find in mathematics or political economy.” Continue reading “grayling’s atrocity: what it means and what we’re going to do about it.”→
Alice Robson writes on her experience teaching, and campaigning in defence of, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
In December last year, I left my job as an ESOL teacher at a South London further education college. I had been at risk of redundancy for almost half of the year I had worked there. I was swapping this uncertainty for a permanent contract in an organisation where ESOL was expanding, and where the vast majority of courses had free childcare to enable women with young children to study- both very welcome differences from the situation at most Further Education (FE) colleges.
A few weeks before I started, the government published Skills for Sustainable Growth, which they described as ‘a radical reform of the skills system to support growth’. Though this document left open many questions, for example limiting ESOL provision to those from ‘settled communities’ (a category that was not then nor since defined) it was clear that the document represented a major attack on ESOL. Continue reading “diverse, colourful, joyful, but angry!”→
Joe Thorne spoke to a student at Leeds City College who has been involved in the protests around education cuts and in the new Really Open Student Union. The interview is followed by statements from a number of other young people, some of which are featured in this bulletin which you can print off and distribute to support students walking out on Wednesday.
On 26th January, college students around the country will walk out. The student movement which made such an impact in November and December will begin again. A number of students and supporters around the country have worked together to produce a bulletin, which can be printed out and distributed in order to build the walk-outs. Click here to download and print!
A leaflet given out by The Commune on Thursday’s fees demo in London
Today is the fourth major day of action against the government’s attack on education.
Much about this movement has been new and original, and that can only be a good thing. The aspiring politicians who lead NUS have been swept aside.
We have stood up for ourselves in spite of media condemnation. The protests and occupations have benefited from being lively and spontaneous. While suited NUS leaders wanted to debate politicians on friendly terms in TV studios, the movement has shown real militancy and anger at this government of millionaires trying to screw us over. Continue reading “keep up the fight!”→
Mark Harrison presents his personal recollections of Sunday’s Education Activist Network Conference and his thoughts on the student left.
So I went to this Education Activist Network (EAN) conference on Sunday. I am glad that I went, as it was better than I expected and actually invigorated me to return to my campus filled with new ideas for action, although the Socialist Workers Party continues to disappoint me. Continue reading “what resistance to education cuts?”→
Lecturers and students alike nowadays cynically describe university education as a ‘factory’. This is, of course, a term of abuse – just think of the disturbing image from Pink Floyd’s The Wall of a conveyor belt of comprehensive students dropping into the mincing machine and emerging as a string of sausages out the other side.
The notion of the University as a mechanised profit machine is where the term derives its critical force. When the philosophy department at Middlesex University was shut down, the ‘Save Middlesex Philosophy’ campaign’s occupation strung an enormous banner out of a first floor window reading: ‘The University is a Factory[.] Strike! Occupy!’ The slogan became the emblematic image of the campaign, and hanging above a neoclassical statue with fist pumped into the air, it endowed the campaign with an uncompromising, industrial proletariat aesthetic that served to reinforce its militant credentials.
There is a simple question that needs to be addressed in regard to the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign: How was it that a campaign that had such momentum, energy and colossal international support collapsed so rapidly and in such acrimony?
Only in May the Trent Park mansion house that housed the department was under occupation, a ‘transversal space’ had been established, and every day newspaper reports and new letters of support were arriving. Like many others, I was disappointed to see the occupation come to a premature end. But it seemed with the rally at Hendon and camp site erected on the grass outside that the campaign was not going away. One academic had already withdrawn their visiting lectureship, and the University and College Union (UCU) had finally agreed to come on side and take action at the start of the new academic year. If ever there was a chance to win this was it.
So what happened? On the 8th of June the campaign website announced a significant ‘victory’ that the philosophy department’s research centre would be moving to Kingston university. Already this sounds a little odd since the campaign was from the start concerned with saving Middlesex Philosophy. However, things get worse on close inspection. Only four of the senior academics—Peter Hallward, Eric Alliez, Stella Sandford and Peter Osborne—would receive jobs at Kingston, whilst two of the more junior members—Christian Kerslake and Mark Kelly—would not.
The comments thread in reaction to the announcement revealed that Kerslake and Kelly had not even been consulted regarding the deal cut with Kingston. Possibly worse, Kingston university would only absorb the PhD candidates and Masters students, not the undergraduate body. It would be galling under any circumstances for an undergraduate cohort to be abandoned by all their senior academics; the fact that the undergraduates took a key role in establishing, maintaining and fighting the campaign (thus, at least to some extent enabling the Kingston deal) makes their desertion appear all the more outrageous.
Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that students were being egged on to take borderline criminal actions at the same time as some academics were cutting backroom deals on jobs. The letter drafted by the senior academics to explain their choice—and it was their choice, since no one, not even their fellow academics were consulted—declares that they decided to opt for Kingston’s offer when they realised the campaign was unwinnable: defeatism coinciding conveniently with self interest. At what point was it unwinnable? What is winnable before contracts were signed and unwinnable afterwards? All in all, a perfect example it seems of hierarchical power relations overriding democratic decision making.
The biggest blow this turn of events delivers may be to wider morale in the anti-cuts movement in education. By decamping to Kingston the campaign’s supporters are meant to be reassured that philosophy has been saved. Quite frankly, if this is what radical philosophy looks like in action, some will wonder whether it is worth saving in the first place.
Nursery and crèche provision is one of the first things to go when cuts are made at colleges and universities, as the recent examples of the University of Sussex, London Metropolitan University and Manchester College show. Here a teacher of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at Tower Hamlets College shows how the decision to close the crèche at the outreach centre where she works was successfully overturned following her and her students’ campaign. Note: Entry 1 (E1) and Entry 2 (E2) refer to levels of classes for beginner ESOL learners.
by Sally Haywill
What do you do when, without warning, you are told ‘Yes, your class now has a new centre to work from, but the students who need childcare must contact the student advisers to arrange a childminder’? You haven’t seen the centre yet, nor spoken to any of your students since your last centre was closed to you on Health and Safety grounds. You’re just back from holiday, and looking forward to seeing everyone. Still in holiday mode, at first I didn’t really take in the implications of this. I hadn’t been consulted, there was no discussion. It all felt a bit unreal. Continue reading “ESOL students and staff defend childcare”→