Schools

Workers' control and school safety

From 5 January all secondary and primary schools moved to being physically open only to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Learning for other students is being offered online. There continue to be struggles over the specifics of this. Firstly, the government has tried to widen the definition of children who can come in to these schools, to the point where head teachers and school leaders’ unions have sounded the alarm. On Saturday 9 January the government was forced to clarify that key workers should send their children only if they cannot work from home. The numbers in...

Grades in 2021

The government has said GCSE and A level grades for 2021 will be done on teachers’ assessments. That may be better than the botched algorithm attempted in 2020. But every school will seek to report results a bit better than 2020 or 2019. A student’s grades will depend as much on their school management’s talents as chancers as on anything real. There’ll also be “grade inflation” (an A or a 9 in 2021 not the same as in 2019), but that, I think, is a lesser problem. For GCSE, the answer is just to scrap GCSE grades. Let 16 year olds go on to what they want, A levels, apprenticeships, whatever...

School workers lead fight to curb new virus variant

Pushed by school workers in the National Education Union (NEU) refusing to comply with school reopening on 4 January, the government on the evening of 4 January announced a new lockdown. It is vital now for the labour movement to take the initiative and campaign on our own program, rather than just relying on government measures. We must campaign for full isolation pay and other social measures, and to uphold the right to protest, picket, and strike during lockdown. Because many school managements had made 4 January, the day the Tories pushed for most primary schools to restart fully, into a...

GCSE chaos: abolish the grades!

Across the UK different regional governments have taken different approaches to the sitting and grading of school exams in the summer term of 2021. In Scotland the National 5 (GCSE equivalent) exams have been cancelled and grades will be determined by “teacher judgement supported by assessment”. Scotland Education Secretary John Swinney declared that going ahead with exams was unfair given Covid-related disruption in schools. In Wales the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, has announced that GCSEs and A-level exams are to be cancelled, with grades based on classroom assessments. However...

Lockdowns and "life against life"

Mike Haynes was long the SWP's leading writer on Russia. Since quitting the SWP in 2013 he has been connected with the SWP splinter group RS21. It's interesting that on his blog he has criticised the gung-ho lockdown-enthusiasm of the SWP and RS21, explaining that "lockdowns not only save lives, they take them".

Labour retreats on Ofsted and primary tests

Reports that the Labour Party leadership is moving towards reforming Ofsted and SATs testing in primary schools, rather than scrapping them, as promised in the 2019 election manifesto, should give activists and educationalists cause for alarm. Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, in an interview with Schools Week, has said she wants to lower the stakes in primary testing, but does not commit to scrapping the statutory tests. The statutory tests have nothing to do with improving children’s education. They are about measuring schools and school workers to make a competitive, semi-market...

Schools: workers' control vs closure

Ireland’s second lockdown (21 October to 2 December), with schools open, has brought a 75% drop in infections from around 19-25 October to 14 November. The Netherlands’ (14 October, tightened from 4 November), with schools open, has brought a 45% drop so far from a 31 October peak. Wales’s, 23 October to 9 November, with schools closed to 2 November, ended with rates no lower than 23 October but maybe a third below peak around 29 October. Northern Ireland’s, 16 October to 13 November, with schools closed to 2 Nov, has got rates 50% down from the 12-18 October peak. Belgium’s (2 November for 6...

Scrap all GCSEs

The Welsh government has cancelled GCSE and A level exams for 2021 in Wales. This is good in that it increases pressure on the Tories to cancel them for England, too. The Welsh approach is not that good, though: the summer exams are to be replaced by a series of “externally” set and marked tests, plus teacher assessment (which puts pressure on school managements and teachers to compete to manipulate grades upwards because otherwise their students lose out compared to the next school’s). GCSEs should be scrapped outright, for good, and need no replacement. Breaking the whole “exam factory”...

Schools and the second lockdown

Throughout the Covid pandemic, but particularly since the wider reopening of schools in June, there has been debate about the role of schools in spreading the virus and the right balance between the need to provide children with education and the most effective suppression of Covid. The key issue for us as socialists is for as many schools to be open as safely and sustainably as possible. The fact is that, for as long as society is affected by the Covid pandemic and there is no widely available vaccine, schools will not function normally and are likely to be subject to persistent closures...

Cash for the NHS and isolation pay!

For weeks now, Solidarity has supported the call by scientists, later taken up by Labour leader Keir Starmer, for a limited new lockdown to slow virus infections. With a “but”. Or rather several “but”s. The agitation by Nigel Farage and some right-wing Tories against restrictions is really a call to favour the better-off who are, or feel, safe from the virus, at the expense of the worse-off in public-facing jobs and crowded circumstances. David Nabarro of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been misquoted by right-wingers. But he is right. “We in the WHO do not advocate lockdowns as the...

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