Education

Mapping the struggle

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I have been a socialist and active trade unionist all my adult life. As a local National Union of Teachers (NUT) officer it sometimes feels like we can be bogged down with case work, having to deal with bullying managers and teachers broken by the pressures of the job. However the last few weeks have been the most exciting of my working life.

The TUC demo on 26 March started to mobilise people for what everyone knew would be the battle ahead. Better organised schools had delegations on the demo and returned back to school more confident that they were part of a much bigger movement.

But the real momentum started after NUT conference over Easter, spurred on by the fact that another teaching union, the ATL, had voted unanimously to ballot for strike action. This is a union that has never taken strike action in its 127-year history. The feeling was, if they are prepared to strike then things have really shifted.

Reading between the class lines

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Literacy is like water - a universal need. But what does a demand for literacy actually mean?

Recently the London Evening Standard devoted many pages to alerting its readers to high levels of "illiteracy" in order to start a campaign. It turns out that this was not much more than trying to win more volunteers for an already existing scheme to send volunteers into schools to hear children read - in other words, Big Society charity stuff rather than universal provision.

Universities Inc

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Outbursts of anger from students and academics greeted the plans of philosopher AC Grayling to establish the New College of the Humanities (NCH) - a new for-profit private university with fees of £18,000.

Peter Hall, a financier who has donated more than £450,000 to the Tory party, has provided the money to promote his vision of a market-driven education. To dismiss the NCH merely as a finishing school for the super-rich (which it will be) fails to capture its significance.

Defending Libraries

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Libraries have become one of the expendable, junkable parts of modern capitalism.

The main alibi in circulation supporting the closure of libraries is that they've become less popular. The reason for that, the argument goes, is that a combination of (a) the production of cheap books, (b) multi-genre TV and (c) the arrival on the internet of virtually everything that a book can offer has supplanted the need for libraries.

We need to be sharp about how we defend the library service and indeed be clear about what we are defending and what we would change about it.

Education at the Crossroads

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The coalition government has launched a colossal attack on all aspects of our education system. Terry Wrigley argues that this is an acceleration of previous governments' policies to drive the market into the heart of learning and will deepen a class hierarchy of institutions and students.


A police officer amid the aftermath of students' "Day X3" protest in December. Photo: Geoff Dexter

Edubusiness unchained

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Since the passing of the Academies Act in July 2010 a new wave of privatisation has been unleashed on our schools. Conversion of outstanding schools to academies or the creation of new "free" schools is allowing edubusiness to expand rapidly.

Ark, EACT and the Harris Academy chain have announced business plans to double the number of academies they control. They are also using the new opportunities to create free schools.

It is a strategy that fits hand in glove with cuts to education budgets and the Tories' idea of a "smaller state". In education minister Michael Gove's world the future is for more and more schools to be privatised so that by the end of the parliament academies are "the norm".

Education demolition

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Lord Browne's recommendation of unlimited tuition fees and the introduction of the free market into universities constitutes a devastating assault on access to education by working class people. Mark Bergfeld considers the effects of the proposals and how they can be stopped.

Lord Browne's proposals of lifting the cap from tuition fees and installing a free market in university funding is the largest attack on higher education (HE) we have seen to date. The spending review has twisted the knife further, by cutting central funding to all but the "priority" subjects. The signals are alarming.

Rank hypocrisy

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While most school students face an uncertain future of dilapidated school buildings and funding cuts, one section of society already receives taxpayers' help to give their children the education they deserve.

Last year the government spent £172 million on subsidising the private school education of senior army officers' children. The scheme covers 90 percent of the cost of the schooling, and is taken up by thousands of top brass officers who save as much as £135,000 per child. A similar scheme is available for diplomats.

The scheme is also available to lower ranking troops - the trouble is that most are too poor to afford even the remaining 10 percent of the costs.

Shame Academy

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The new government has launched a "radical reform" plan to expand the academies programme and introduce "free" schools. This threatens the future of state education by entrenching social segregation. It will also be disastrous for the pay and conditions of school staff and will destroy accountability and democracy in the education system.

Michael Gove, the new secretary of state for education, has written to head teachers in schools judged by Ofsted to be "outstanding" asking if they would like to become academies. The government has removed legal requirements for schools to consult staff and parents about the decision to turn a school into an academy. This is now decided at just one meeting of a school's governing body.

Support Tusc!

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I put myself forward as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) candidate for Tottenham because cuts in my college are a microcosm of the cuts threatened by all the main parties.

An electoral challenge to David Lammy MP had to be mounted. The campaign is gathering momentum. A growing team of people from the college and the community have been postcarding door to door and on the street. The response has been really positive.

I've lived and worked in Tottenham for 21 years and have seen the effects of rising social inequality. We now have the highest unemployment in London and life expectancy is 17 years lower than in the wealthiest areas.

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