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 Now, after months of struggle and direct action, the redundancies have been withdrawn.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’”→
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!
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”→
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.
A small group of us have been meeting once a month to make some time to think about the links between education and social change. Last year we had some really interesting discussions on adult literacy, privatisation, Marxism and education, Freirian pedagogy, and deschooling, but we want to get bigger. If you are someone interested or involved in education and like the sound of manageable amounts of reading, informal conversation, and hopefully some stimulating ideas, come and join us. We meet on the first Thursday of the month between 7-9pm in Bethnal Green.
The next meeting is on Thursday 4th February (use email below for the venue details), and will be a discussion on the ideas of A.S. Neill as embodied in his Free-School, Summerhill.
There are a number of reasons why I have found it difficult to write about union-busting politics in my workplace. (i) I have been working too hard to consider that I might take time to reflect on it all. (ii) I, like many other workers, am intimidated by the threat of losing my job. (iii) It is sometimes hard to know what good will come from having a great big moan, and it can make you feel even worse!
However, I was encouraged to write about what has been going on in my school by a fellow comrade. Why? Because we are a community of workers, whatever our jobs, whatever our unions. Unless we can problematize the very insidious tactics that managements put in place daily to undermine our agency and threaten our security and mental well-being, we will not be confident in recognising how best to tackle them. Continue reading “why such scope for union-busting in schools?”→
When I was at school I worked hard, did what I was told and got good results. When I was at university I hoped an under graduate degree in education would shed some light on the true potential education has to make a better world. I studied philosophy and sociology of education at a university for whom the faculty of education, its roots in vocational training, was a slightly embarrassing poor relation, best kept at arms length and occasionally derided. The message was sometimes enlightening, the medium certainly was not. I embarked on a PGCE at the Institute of Education where I lost all hope that our education system held any radical elements that might actually cut through the elitist bureaucracy of government policy; clearly it was up to the individual to find the tiny cracks around the edges of the system wherever they could and fill them with something that felt more like being alive than a standards-driven agenda of mind-reducing mundanity. The real tragedy being that the vast majority of people didn’t seem to realise that there was any need to look for the cracks, let alone feel able to start to think what mind-expanding possibilities you might be able to fill them with.
And then I found a place that was one big crack, through which sun-light streamed. A place that had been built on the solid principles of child-centred, class conscious principles, and by in large stuck to them in both its theory and practice. The place isn’t perfect, but is a place with more integrity than any other educational institution I’ve been involved with. So here are a few things that our ordinary state funded community primary school is and does that shows us that you can. Continue reading “an alternative view of the classroom”→
The Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire (1921-1997) is regarded internationally as the guru of adult education. Since we are concerned as communists with educating ourselves and with “raising consciousness” among the working class, then it would seem useful to look at Freire’s ideas.
As luck would have it Freire’s classic textbook Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) is not only a statement of the principles on which to practise adult education, it is also a handbook on how to build a revolutionary party. There are many references to liberation and revolutionary leadership throughout the book. One of the reasons for this is that in the 1960s in Brazil when Freire was organising Adult Literacy classes on a mass scale, his activity was very radical because only literate people could vote in Brazil. In 1964 after the coup Freire was jailed and then exiled for his efforts. He went to Chile and then to UNESCO where he influenced Literacy programmes throughout the Third World. Continue reading “building from below: the ideas of paulo freire”→
Nathan Coombs interviews a participant in the university occupation movement in Vienna, Austria. See here for his previous article ‘The battle for free education begins’, featuring a video on one of the occupations.
Why did you decide to occupy? How and when did you occupy the building, and why did you choose the particular space that you did?
After years of exhausting fights between students, teachers and the rectorate there was evidently great discontent. One of the main reasons for this was a successive undemocratisation of the academy of fine arts going along with a structural empowerment of the rector. Even the election of the rector caused significant resentment and was followed by a state ruling that Clementine Deliss, who applied for the rector’s job, was sexually discriminated against, as she was not chosen although she had been the only candidate with a broad popularity amongst students, teachers and the senate. Continue reading “interview with austrian student occupation activist”→
It is 16 months since Staffordshire County Council announced its plans to restructure education in Tamworth and 14 months since we launched an active and vibrant campaign in opposition to this.
Hands Off Tamworth Schools was born after a wave of outrage swept the town at plans to turn one of our five High Schools into an Academy, close one school completely and remove all Sixth Form provision from the remaining four schools and concentrate it on a single site, entirely in the hands of the Academy. Continue reading “how we fought to defend education in tamworth”→
The October issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF, or see articles as they are posted online in the list below.
To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.