The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Standing Up For Education!

On Tuesday, 20 September, Standing Up For Education, the latest publication by Spokesman Books, was launched in the Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham. It provides an excellent compilation of insights from different perspectives including students, teachers, trade unionists and parents into the devastating processes of destruction of primary and secondary education. Emphasising the situation in Nottingham, the volume provides a snapshot into processes affecting also other local communities across the UK. In this blog post, I will report on the contributions by four of the authors, who were present at the book launch.

Tom Unterrainer, the editor of this excellent volume, opened the presentations. Academies, he asserted, are not about improving education. They do not focus on the human need to grow. Instead, they focus on ensuring the supply of a willing future workforce. Additionally, Academies have caused a deterioration in working conditions for people. Cleaners at some Academies in Nottingham are paid 30 pence less per hour than at schools still under the control of Local Education Authorities. Overall, Academies have not tackled poverty, inequality and youth unemployment in Nottingham.

Tom Unterrainer, Photo by Ivan Wels

Nevertheless, there are alternatives, Unterrainer pointed out. Rather than asking what kind of workforce industry needs, the emphasis should be on what might be best for our children. In turn, the question should then be what the world of work should look like in order to reflect these needs. In other words, human needs must determine work and not the other way round.

Nadia Whittome, Photo by Ivan Wels
Nadia Whittome talked in her contribution about the close link between over-testing in schools and mental health problems of young people. Increasing emphasis on exams at younger and younger ages – see the new SATs tests for primary school pupils in Year 6 – have ramped up the pressure on children at an early age, making children into failures already at the age of 11. Here too, the focus of the testing culture is not on the needs of young children, but closely linked to the rankings of schools based on test results and the related marketization of education.

Sam Keely, in turn, reflected on his personal experiences in secondary education and here in particular the failure of Djanogly City Academy, Nottingham. ‘When I enrolled [in 2008], Djanogly City Academy was one of only a handful of academies across the country. It was a pioneer in many of the Practices now common throughout the education system – the employment of unqualified teachers, not recognising teaching unions, and the involvement of business people in school governance, often to the exclusion of parents and community representatives’ (P.58). Completely independent from a national curriculum, the main emphasis was almost solely on preparing children for the workplace with teachers’ autonomy undermined. The fact that 20 per cent of teachers had been employed without any training goes hand in hand with a Victorian kind of reliance on rich benefactors in funding the Academy. Clearly, academisation, introduced by New Labour and pushed by the current Conservative government, is not a way of improving the education system and caring for children’s needs.

Sam Keely, Photo by Ivan Wels

The presentations were concluded by Louise Regan, a primary school head teacher and currently Senior Vice President of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). She reported on how not only children are subjected to an ever more intrusive testing culture, teachers too are faced with constant monitoring. The naming and shaming strategy of ‘non-performing’ schools by Ofsted represents a kind of terror regime, making teachers afraid to leave the official path, even if they realise in their professional capacity that children’s needs differ.

Louise Regan, Photo by Ivan Wels

Instead of the rather arbitrary rating of schools and teachers by Ofsted, schools should be accountable to their local community and the parents of the children, Regan pointed out. If in trouble, these schools should then be assisted by teachers from other schools, creating a positive environment of nurturing good schools.  

There is hope, Unterrainer concluded. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has provided a much clearer opposition to government policy, departing drastically from New Labour education policies, which had introduced Academies in the first place. The fact that Corbyn is one of the contributors to this volume confirms his commitment to a different kind of education policy:

‘Education is a fundamental right’!

Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

28 September 2016

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