why the phony war?

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?”

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why is there class in the classroom?

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.

prison warder: for many a classist education system is a trial

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?”

‘something out of the ordinary’

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 dispute overlapped with the June 30th strike day

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’”

grayling’s atrocity: what it means and what we’re going to do about it.

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.

grayling: wipe the smile off his face

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.”

diverse, colourful, joyful, but angry!

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!”

reading group ‘the ignorant schoolmaster’ starts 28th february

The Commune has organised two reading group meetings, studying Jacques Ranciere’s book on radical education, The Ignorant Schoolmaster.


The meetings are on each of the next two Mondays, (28th Feb; 7th March) at the Really Free School @ The Black Horse, 6 Rathbone Place, London. The text is not over-long and is available online (see below), and should be an interesting read. Continue reading “reading group ‘the ignorant schoolmaster’ starts 28th february”

“we want to inspire other people to take a stand”: interview with a college student activist

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.


How are the cuts going to affect you?

I’m worrying about my future.  I don’t know if I can stay in college.  This has cancelled out my hope of going to uni.  I’m living with my parents.  They’re both disabled and we’re living off disability allowance.  I don’t know how we’re going to get through the next few years, and bills are going up, especially electricity and gas. Continue reading ““we want to inspire other people to take a stand”: interview with a college student activist”