Tower Hamlets College: Teachers are not city bankers!

Submitted by Newcastle on 10 September, 2009 - 11:18

These cuts fall in line with a tide of xenophobic government reforms around ESOL provision; part of the big fuzzy picture of “integration” that they like to contradict.

Here’s a struggle to be had out in the midst of tightening immigration controls, rising popularity of the extreme racist-right and let’s not forgot the big “excuse”, this bastard recession.

But the compulsory redundancies at Tower Hamlets College were not directly implemented by local government, but they were carried out by the college principal in the interest of budget and “performance”. At the very end of term all teachers were told there would be compulsory redundancies made on the basis of “performance management.” “Why not voluntary redundancies at least?” a teacher at the college said to me (on Friday 28 August). Why not?

So they warned staff that they were going to be scored and the lowest scorers would be axed. You can imagine how the staff felt. They were measured against such variables as student attendance (since when is it anything to do with your teaching if a student contracts swine flu?), sickness (you’re kidding right?) and flexibility... Flexibility! So the key to scoring high on flexibility is making sure you have no commitments outside (or inside) of working hours, especially any that might concern trade union organising.

One teacher who lost her job had apparently had her class split into two in the first term, but the computer registration system had not been updated. So her class came up as consistently half full. This data was enough to prove her ineptitude, apparently.

To add insult to injury staff were told they had to go to a compulsory Professional Development training session after they had been warned of the cuts but not yet told who had been affected. This session was on “differentiation” (a buzz word in education for “making lessons accessible to a range of learners with differing language and cognitive abilities” — ironic?) and it was to be facilitated by an external agency despite the fact that there were plenty of skilled staff within the college who would have been able to run it.

This showed staff that management were more interested in buying in external consultants than in retaining their staff and treating them with the respect they deserved. Apparently hell was raised in the session. Good.

It is the way management handled the announcement of the cuts that really sticks in the throat. They told the workers that if they were being made redundant they would receive a letter by courier at some point during the first Wednesday of the holidays. People waited all day for these letters. One worker thought she was safe when a courier arrived with the news at 10.30pm! They were presented with their score-sheets; they had a low score ,and this was their “punishment”. I don’t think the teachers who were kept on were ever able to view their own score-sheet.

Funny that they didn’t give them all out at the end of term so they could have compared? I guess the holidays are a good time to hit exhausted demoralised workers alone in their homes.

It isn’t fair? Precisely. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but the mere fact that the cuts were largely made within the ESOL department suggests that the “score-sheet” tactic was all a ruse to make out that this was for the good of the students; to project an image which might mean that people revere management and keep tabs on their score. This is all part of the changing face of education work where surveillance and performance are used as ways to scare and to divide workers and it runs in tandem with privatisation; it’s all part of a programme to loosen the control that workers might have over their own workplace.

Well thankfully these workers will be not be divided on grounds of “performance” like the city boys and girls. They know what they’re worth and they’re putting up a strong fight. If only Unison [nationally] had got its act together to ballot a bit sooner than two weeks after the strike began, the whole college would have been brought to a standstill during these first enrolment days... but never mind, we should be used to unions slowing each other down by now.

Everybody should support this strike. Education workers in particular, who’ve been swallowing the Ofsted pill for long enough , should stand united against bully-boy tactics like the ones displayed at Tower Hamlets College and say: “We know what we’re doing , we know what you’re doing and we won’t be intimidated by you! “

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