Issue section: 

Education - China - Unions

Attacks on education

I agreed with much of Terry Wrigley's article, Education at the Crossroads (Feature, Socialist Review, January 2011). However, there have even been changes in education since last month.

The pressure being put on secondary schools to become academies has increased in its intensity. Many head teachers in my area are telling staff that they are going to get extra money to convert which will prevent staff being made redundant. They are also telling staff nothing will change.

However, the recent leaked letter from education secretary Michael Gove to head teachers considering converting their schools to academies says something very different. One section of the letter states, "We consider the ability to set the pay and conditions of staff to be the key freedoms of academy status. Consequently, the existence of any such agreements will be a significant factor in the assessment the secretary of state will make before deciding whether or not to enter into a funding agreement for an academy."

In terms of funding there is no guarantee there will be extra funds after September 2011 and schools will have to purchase the services they used to get from local authorities.

We have seen strikes in places like Ecclesbourne School, Derbyshire, and we need more of these to stop privatisation plans in their tracks.

The other worry for school staff is the new baccalaureate, where league tables are not just based on the number of pupils who get five A* to Cs at GCSE equivalent, including English and maths, but will include history or geography, a science and a modern foreign language. This has exposed schools which go for easier qualifications to boost themselves in the league tables, but the danger is that subjects like art, drama and technology will be squeezed out of the curriculum.

Finally, two years ago Ofsted changed its framework with more emphasis on safeguarding. This has resulted in primary school pupils being told off for opening doors to strangers and secondary schools being turned into prisons, which are under complete lockdown during the day. This is not to keep strangers out but to keep staff and pupils in. However, the school students before Christmas showed that, despite the repressive regimes in schools, resistance is possible.

Sally Kincaid

Defend China's dissidents

Chen Duxiu's letter about Chinese dissidents (Feedback, Socialist Review, January 2011) raised a number of important points about Socialist Review's coverage.

He is right, first of all, to highlight the case of Zhao Dongmin, who has been jailed for advocating workers' rights. Readers who want to know more about his case should look at the excellent China Labour Bulletin website at (and Socialist Review's new editor should definitely think about an article on repression of workers' advocates).

Chen is also right to point out that Liu Xiaobo is far from being a socialist. He might have added that Liu once said, "China's tragedy is that it wasn't colonised for at least 300 years by a Western power or Japan."

But Charter 08, the document Liu sponsored, also contains a number of demands no socialist could oppose, including "freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest".

It also calls for "a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, healthcare, retirement security, and employment" - hardly core neocon demands.

Liu wasn't jailed primarily because of what he thinks. After all, the Chinese government also supports privatisation and the promotion of markets - and the war in Afghanistan, for that matter.

Rather he was jailed for what he represents. Liu is the most prominent figure from the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement remaining in China, and his dedication of the Nobel prize win to the victims shows he is utterly unrepentant. Twenty two years after the massacre on 4 June he remains a rallying point for those who have neither forgiven not forgotten, as the recent statement of support from Ding Zilin, the leader of the Mothers of Tiananmen Square group, illustrates.

Charlie Hore

No illusions in unions

I think your article on leadership is well intentioned but totally wrong (Feature, Socialist Review, December 2010). There may be a few kindly or even militant union leaders but the unions sold out long ago. My dad tore up his union card after they called off a strike at Ford in Dagenham. My mum left the Labour Party.

Please don't sow illusions in the unions. As Trotsky understood, they are dead for purpose and pushing people back to them will only prolong the agony.

The unions are the bosses and are part of the system/problem.

Jemimah McFarlane