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?”

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‘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 Now, after months of struggle and direct action, the redundancies have been withdrawn.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’”

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”

bulletin to build colleges walkout on 26 jan – print off and distribute

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!

Introductory text follows Continue reading “bulletin to build colleges walkout on 26 jan – print off and distribute”

on violence against the police

by a participant in the Parliament Square demonstrations

The condemnations are as predictable as they are boring.  The public-school educated Sun hacks, who write like some coked up parodies of proletarian semi-literacy, refer to “louts” and “hooligans”.  The Daily Mail complains about someone urinating against Churchill’s statue, and the Telegraph is dismayed that Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were “attacked”.  Probably by a “baying mob”.  Meanwhile, someone in a moustache on The Guardian talks about how, no doubt, this will provide a “distraction” from the “real issues”, whose repetition ad nauseam presumably has some intrinsic value for the solemn liberal contingent.

I can’t even be bothered to look up the precise terms of the condemnation this time.  It’s always the same.  A dash of the royal family, veneration for some long dead racist, shakes of the head from the banal but well intentioned.  Is anyone still listening?  Haven’t we read all this before? Continue reading “on violence against the police”

the university is a factory, lets treat it as one

By Sebastian Wright

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.

Pink Floyd's The Wall presents education as a factory process as a dystopian nightmare, but does looking at it this way really need to be a problem?

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.

Continue reading “the university is a factory, lets treat it as one”

save middlesex philosophy post mortem

Abandoned?

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.