Fighting the Tories' plans for schools

Submitted by Matthew on 29 July, 2010 - 3:04

The opening session of Ideas for Freedom 2010 was “How do we fight the Tories’ plans for schools?”. The session was chaired by Gemma Short, a first year teacher and AWL member from Sheffield. The keynote contributions are below.

Jean Lane, teaching assistant and UNISON activist in Tower Hamlets

Turning schools judged as “outstanding” by Ofsted into Academies is going to take money out of the central Local Education Authorities that fund all schools in their area, put that into Academies, leaving the rest of the schools in that area impoverished.

It’s going to mean a massive class divide in terms of who can get what education and who can get what funding.

In Tower Hamlets we’ve already had the education workers working directly for the LEA threatened with redundancies, loss of pay, changes in the services that they provide, changes in the jobs that they do.

Special Educational Needs support will go. I work with students who come into school bringing all the problems they have at home. I work with students whose wrists are bleeding when I’m trying to teach them to add up fractions. Without the support services, without the SEN funding, without all of that extra stuff that goes on outside of just teaching in the classroom they would not survive school.

One school in my borough is threatening 21 redundancies. If they get away with it — which is unlikely — the members of staff left behind will have all of that work to do with far fewer staff to do it; they are also threatened with having their pay cut quite drastically, losing thousands of pounds a year to continue to do the job that they normally do, plus.

I can see a scenario where union members are streets ahead of even the activists, let alone the bureaucrats when it comes to being angry about this. But we’ve got a job of work to do not just with our labour movement and our trade union movement but with the left as well, organising the anti-cuts campaigns.

Liam Conway, secretary of Nottinghamshire National Union of Teachers

The thing that ties the academies and the cuts together is simple — class war. The government has declared massive class war in its schools programme.

Class war in the same way as the miners’ strike when they used all the forces of the state to pummel the miners into submission. It’s likely they are going to do similar things in the fight to come in the public sector.

In the unions we have to fight for them to say things that they never said under Labour. They’ve got to talk about the need to attack the rich. The TUC and all the trade unions have to point the finger, and to say to working-class people, there’s not a problem here of shortages, to point out what can be done.

In my sociology lessons, once a year, I buy the Sunday Times to read the annual rich list. The ST prints that list as a celebration of the wonders of the rich… they make a big thing about the philanthropy of the rich, building them up as genuinely nice people. Now, one thing I try to do with my sociology students is to tell them — and I think it is important to tell working-class people this — is that rich people hate working-class people. And, actually, working class people don’t hate the rich enough!

In one year the rich increased their wealth by £77 billion. Now the Tories are planning to cut education, the schools budget for building, by £7 billion. So for us the case is simple — the money is over there, let’s do with it what the bosses do with trade unions when they decide to take strike action, sequestrate it and redirect it toward the services that we need.

When the ruling class want to hit the rich, or when governments want to hit the rich, they can actually do it. Look at BP. Legally it is only liable to pay $69 million in compensation. But it’s going to be paying £13 billion to clean up the oil spill. There’s no newspaper making a big outcry about that payout. But if there were a suggestion that £13 billion should be taken off them as a windfall tax there’d have been a massive outcry.

The Tories have turned the Academies programme on its head. They’ve dragged out the logic Blair had in mind on Academies, and that Blair couldn’t completely publicly say. Labour Academies were mostly in deprived areas where a lot of pretty smart, new buildings were put in place. The idea of it, supposedly, was to raise standards in so-called failing schools. The Tory academies are completely different, because all of those schools lined up to become academies in the Labour scheme have now been stopped from getting any money for being rebuilt.

But the linking idea is privatisation — the Academies programme was always a privatising programme. New Labour also had a class-driven programme highlighted by their diet of vocational education, preparing working class kids just for work and not for the class struggle. Well socialist teachers need to be preparing kids for the class struggle in schools!

There is a low level of morale in the trade union movement to an extent, but there is also a huge amount of anger out there. People really are asking what is going on? What is happening with pensions? What is happening with Building Schools? What is going to happen to our pay? Are we going to lose jobs?

We need to organise the movement, reorient what we do towards this battle that is to come, to feed on what people are saying, and build in the unions for strike action as early as possible.

We’ve got to build the confidence of the membership of the trade union movement in order to take on this full frontal assault on our class. It can be done. When you go into schools and explain what’s going on and feed off their anger, they are up for a fight, they will take on their bullying managers and they will take on a bullying government bent on class war.

Tali Janner-Klausner, London School Students’ Union and National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts activist

We need to think about the process of schools becoming Academies, that it has no community involvement, that it’s been pushed upon many schools, and that thousands of schools in the next couple of years could just become Academies without there being a chance of a big movement of resistance.

The academies bill doesn’t allow for anyone in the local community, not parents, not teachers, not people whose kids would be going to the school, to have any say in whether the school becomes an academy. The only people involved in this process are governors, the sponsor and central government.

There’s no requirement for even a consultation, this is obviously a big contrast with the fluffy “Big Society” idea — we’re empowering parents and ordinary people — there just seems to be no element of that rhetoric in the actual content of the bill.

Governors will not be accountable. Instead of being appointed by the elected councillors of the local authority and elected by parents or by teachers, academies governors will all be appointed by the sponsor.

At one academy a friend of mine attends, one governor is the sponsor, one the sponsor’s wife, one is a parent governor who was appointed and two of them are friends of the sponsor.

The privatisation and cuts work together to deepen inequality. In the past month plans to extend free school meals have been scrapped — this also links into the Academies/Free Schools programme. Of the “outstanding” schools which are being given Academy status, they have 40% fewer children on free school meals.

We need to remember that even though all these things are really awful and we need to oppose them, the system that we are defending has a lot of problems in it as well. We still need to keep in mind exams, school discipline, military recruitment in schools, tuition fees; we need to oppose these things as well.

Teachers and parents instinctively don’t want a corporation or an unaccountable group running their school. But this opposition has been really muted. The main reason for that, I think, is that Academies will get more money. Again, this links into cuts; people think, well, we’re going to get 25% cuts, how can we make sure that our school is not affected by those? Well, Academies get more money!

I think the people in the NUT have talked about strike action over academies but perhaps they might want to wait to fight over pay and conditions and pensions over the next couple of years rather than on a political issue like this. So activists in the NUT or NASUWT or the other teaching or support unions really need to push for strike action.

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