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!”


hackney community college needs a community fightback

A report on the recent cuts by an hourly-paid ESOL teacher

Cuts and Compulsory Redundancies

Earlier this year 68 members of staff at Hackney Community College were issued with notification of possible redundancy. After two successful, solid strike days, negotiation and many voluntary redundancies there are now only a handful of people facing compulsory redundancy. Continue reading “hackney community college needs a community fightback”

ESOL students and staff defend childcare

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”

struggle as a second language – interview with tower hamlets college strikers

From Mute: An interview with two workers involved in the open-ended strike against cuts at Tower Hamlets College last year

They describe their criticisms of the union, the ongoing problems since the partial victory at the college, and the state of the sector in the face of government austerity cuts. Continue reading “struggle as a second language – interview with tower hamlets college strikers”

workers revolt against vygotsky – an account of unofficial action at tower hamlets college

The following piece was written by one of the Tower Hamlets College (THC) ESOL teachers who were on strike for four weeks until recently.  For context, it would be best to read our previous coverage – Lessons of the Tower Hamlets ESOL Strike – first.  The article is not current, though it has not previously been published.  It was begun at the end of the summer term 2009, has had a few updates since, and describes unofficial action taken at a training day, which included materials by educational theorist Lev Vygotsky*(whose work it is in no way necessary to be aware of in order to read the following).  The article shows the power of workers to make themselves unmanageable, and some real dynamics of taking assertive action at work in 2009.

THC - workers revolt against vygotsky

By ‘Rachel’

Some local supporters witnessed an open air meeting of our union branch on Friday 3rd July where we had to take the decision of what to do on the Monday of the last week of work. Monday was not a strike day because it was planned as something more important. Teaching finished on Friday and the following week has always been a week of paid Continuing Professional Development – ‘CPD’ where there is a variety of sessions on offer and staff can choose what they’d like to do from a varied list of options including more practical things like learning new software programs or exploring new teaching theories.

Continue reading “workers revolt against vygotsky – an account of unofficial action at tower hamlets college”

lessons of the tower hamlets esol strike

Two workers who took part in the recent strike over cuts to teaching roles and student places in English for Speakers of Other Languages and other subjects spoke to The Commune about the lessons of the dispute.


Tell us about what unions workers are in, their organising capacity, and of their previous relationship with management

All teachers are in the University and College Union. Support staff/admin staff are mainly in Unison or no union. UCU has always been strong in the college and in the two years before the strike successfully campaigned to make 60 hourly paid teachers into permanent employees with higher pay and more rights. UCU also led an unofficial walkout earlier in the year to support our longstanding caretaker who was sacked. Continue reading “lessons of the tower hamlets esol strike”

tower hamlets college: strike solid!

by Joe Thorne

On Wednesday, at the end of the third week of the strike, a mass meeting of Tower Hamlets College UCU members voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike: 156 for continuing action, 14 abstentions, no votes against.

The struggle suffered a setback on Monday when it emerged that the ballot for strike action of UNISON members (i.e. of admin workers at the College) failed 13 to 12.  Apparently, however, a mass meeting of UNISON members last week voted 60 strong for strike action, with 3 abstentions.  Some UNISON members did not receive a ballot paper (often the case in strikes – members not receiving ballots need to be chased up, and replacements must be arranged).  But, in part, the result is also a reflection of an the atomising procedure that is the secret ballot: which is established in law specifically because it makes it harder to organise collective action.

However, the strike remains strong.  Picket lines are always welcoming, receptive, and worth a visit.  (Locations and other ideas for how you can help on our previous report.)  The strike fund stands at an impressive £25,000, though with 250 striker in their fourth week without work to support, it does need to be augmented.  The strike has a number of positive features which the whole movement can learn from: Continue reading “tower hamlets college: strike solid!”