Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I reserve this strongest of parental statements of condemnation for the Liberal Democrats. I am ready to be proved wrong, but it looks as though next Thursday will see them either vote through the hike in tuition fees, or abstain. Either way, they will be betraying the thousands of us who believed a vote for them would constitute a move away from the ‘business as usual’ we were all so sick of, let alone those who ‘stupidly’ believed they would keep their promise not to increase tuition fees.

The coalition claims the increase is necessary and the Lib Dems take credit for inputting certain bursaries and more lenient repayment terms.

All they are simply doing is sugaring the bitter tory pill; making the harsh restructuring of our society a little more palatable. I feel betrayed! This is not what I nor, I am sure thousands of others, voted for!

The tuition fees debate is exemplary of the cuts debate in general; it is framed as such that the only presented options are cuts to education/ health care/ etc. and economic stability, or debt lead growth leading to collapse GrecoIrish Style. However, our very neighbours, Scotland and Wales, are showing us that education cuts are not needed; we are quite capable of affording this most worthy of investments, we did so when we were poorer and poorer countries continue to do so today. In fact in the UK spends about 1% of GDP on higher education representing half the OECD average.

We must sort out our priorities. Are these to bail out banks and business (Vodaphone just received a nice £6billion debt write off), Nuclear Submarines and illegal wars (we spend three times more on ‘defence’ than education) and not to invest the pillar of civilization which is education? This is even putting aside the profitability of this investment.

This ‘sugaring of the pill’ by the Lib Dems within a government that few people in this supposed democracy are happy with is a classic example of how our capitalist ‘democratic’ system distorts the general will into a shape which will fit nicely into the system and negating the need for any real social change which it demands in its true form. The parameters of change are limited to remain within a system which is fundamentally exploitative.

In his claim that ‘under the present circumstances’ there is no alternative to breaking his tuition fees promise Vince Cable presents himself as a true Son of Thatcher. What a shame that many of us who voted for him and his party saw this coming.


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The dust is beginning to settle after the occupation of 30 Millbank last Wednesday, and the time has come to assess what happened and how we can take the resistance – both in universities and beyond – forwards. The 50,000 students on the streets was impressive, but it was the 5,000 at Millbank who made the difference. They escalated what was already the biggest single protest against the Coalition into the beginning of the resistance. For once, when we chanted “You say cut back, we say fight back”, we actually meant it. The idea that students are apathetic took a big dent at Millbank, and the student population became a threat to government for the first time in decades. This government is fragile; it depends on student support. If an election were held tomorrow, it would not survive, and it would be students who would bring it down, defeating all the Liberal Democrats who were propelled into office on student votes. But to think that elections will be sufficient to stop austerity is fantasy. All three parties have a cuts consensus, and it is through extra-parliamentary action that our voices will be heard. We voted, and we were ignored. We marched, and we were ignored. We rioted, and our voices were heard around the world.

In a demo de-brief meeting that I attended, two comments made by fellow protesters stood out. One described the NUS March (and marching in general) as “asking nicely”. Important, politeness is a virtue after all, but unlikely to gain results. Another mentioned “diversity of tactics”, where those who wish to protest peacefully and benignly can do so, but those who engage in direct action can too. (Incidentally, I would argue the direct action at Millbank also largely non-violent – but then I don’t class breaking windows (violence against property) and violence against the police (who are always the most violent people on a demonstration) as violence per se. The idiot with the fire extinguisher, however, was out of order, and the crowd told him as much.)

Had it just been 5,000 at Millbank without the 50,000 others, it would have been just the same old anarchist and communist faces. The strength of the action was that, from that 50,000, thousands were sufficiently angry and sufficiently confident to join with the minority of seasoned activists. The vast majority of those in the building, pushing against police lines and smashing windows were on their first ever protest, and the pictures show this – would “hardcore anarchists” and “professional protesters”, as the mainstream media have described them, have allowed themselves to be photographed and filmed by so many without the most rudimentary of face-coverings? No chance. These were students, HE and FE, who were angry and who were motivated to do something about it. The arrest statistics bear this out – 10 of 54 were under 18 (FE students).

What cannot be underestimated, however, is the role of the NUS pre-protest. The fact that there was 50,000 of us on Wednesday is testament to their capabilities. They have a level of resources and a reach which we cannot equal, and for better or worse, we do need them. However, their actions post-protest have been despicable, and we must remember that they cannot be relied upon. That a trade union is encouraging its members to shop other members to the police is beyond reprehension. The actions on the day at Millbank showed that there is a palpable anger and urge to resist amongst ordinary students which the NUS does not cater for, and has no interest in catering for. Their bust cards were a joke, and they have set a precedent now in disowning members who engage in direct action. This will not put people off going to protest and taking direct action, but it has highlighted the need for better preparation on the left in order to protect protesters who perhaps are not as experienced as some of us are. The spontaniety of the action on Wednesday was fantastic, and we must ensure that activists are protected.

We also need to ensure that the protests at Millbank are not the last. They have provided an enormous public opening to the campaign of resistance to austerity and must be built upon. Thousands of students were radicalised during the protest, and millions more workers would have sat and watched on television and felt heartened by the actions taken – one senses that few tears were shed for the windows of 30 Millbank in working men’s clubs and trade union branches and job centres across the country. Actions will be taken with much greater gusto as a result of Wednesday. Already, Manchester university has staged an occupation; at Leeds, a police presence in an anti-cuts meeting was summarily removed. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) has called for a student strike on the 24th of November, and this should be the next step in the student resistance. Action begats action, and every step the students take gives confidence to others and makes them more likely to take action. To defeat these cuts it will take mass action from all sectors of society, but, at Millbank, the fightback began in earnest.

To join an anti-cuts movement at your university, or to start one, contact the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

To add your signature to statement of unity with those arrested at Millbank, click here.

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Witness to punishment inside the Ghanaian classroom by Luciana Storelli Castro

In my view, one of the most difficult tasks associated with living in a foreign country, especially a non-western lower-income developing country, is finding a delicate balance between accepting and constructively criticizing the dictates of that country’s moral code.

The question arises, is it right to impose one’s own post-modernist values on a society still in the lower rung of the development ladder? This is a question that I continuously wrestle with, especially as a volunteer at a local primary school.

As “Auntie Luci,” the foreign English teacher, I have been assigned to work with a 1st grade classroom of fifty-seven students. From day one I have suffered from a bit of culture shock, witnessing a form of classroom discipline completely alien to what I have ever known.

Teachers will roam the aisles with a yard – long cane, whacking children on the arm or back for talking, not following directions, or just being rowdy. To grab the class’s attention, the teacher will stand in front of the classroom and smack the cane repetitively on a desk threatening, “I will beat you!” if the class does not come to order.

In some instances, a student found to have somehow wronged another student (i.e. usually by either hitting or stealing the student’s pencil), will be asked to hold his or her hand open while the teacher administers several blows with the cane.

Another strategy a teacher might use in disciplining students includes singling out those who are misbehaving and having them kneel down in front of the classroom with their hands raised for an indeterminate period of time. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that these disciplinary methods have been so concretely institutionalized that students have been programmed to react only upon physical infliction. To give an example, on one occasion I was left alone with the children and, from one moment to the next, the once harmonious classroom environment ruptured into anarchy. I had a whole classroom full of seven year-olds crying, running, shouting, and fighting – it was utter mayhem.

A little girl, having read the desperation in my face, handed me the cane. The message could not have been clearer: If you want to regain control of the classroom, whack away. I didn’t of course, but was saved by another teacher who was prepared to use the cane.

My personal dilemma is knowing how to respond to a disciplinary system that I feel is not only outdated but, most importantly, detrimental to student learning. Studies have shown that a child’s cortisol levels rise in order to manage stress and fear. This physiological reaction, in turn, blocks the child’s ability to reason.

After sustained reflection on my experience in the classroom, I continue to be torn by the underlying ethical predicament. I would strongly argue that there are universal values that transcend cultures, such as the right of children to secure their physical integrity. However, discovering ways to promote these universal values without coming off as a moral imperialist remains a foremost challenge.

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A Brave New Look at the Coalition Government’s Academies Bill

by Will Fee

On the back of Granada publishing’s 1979 edition of Brave New World (1932), social philosopher Bertrand Russell, proclaims ominously of Aldous Huxley’s seminal novel that, “it is all too likely to come true”. This may, at first glance, several decades after its initial utterance, seem a rather hyperbolic suggestion. For, from our elevated position within modern society, it is easy to survey with disdain the litany of mistakes and overestimations made in literature and popular culture throughout the twentieth century in predicting the countenance of our twenty-first century present, the future of the past.

Science fiction throughout the last century has consistently insisted on over–estimating the efficacy with which the human race was to set about its mission to explore outer-space. Films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and its sequel, 2010: Odyssey 2 (1984), allow humanity just over a quarter of a century in each instance to achieve relative Übermensch status in terms of technological advancement and knowledge. Yet we, happy members of the X-Factor Generation living now in the actual year 2010, know from experience that such advancements are not as yet forthcoming.

It is interesting therefore, to contemplate Brave New World with regard to its relevance to modern society. For, as a futuristic, predictive work of art, it is one resonating with themes that still hold magnificently true today. Unlike George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), it is not an entirely dystopian vision of our future. It contains some aspects of a futuristic social life that could be considered altogether agreeable: the entirely liberated attitudes towards sex and the equality between the sexes this engenders, for example; or the easy access to fancy gadgets such as personal, metropolis traversing helicopters. These developments are positive elements of a future society that humanity can look forward to enjoying. Yet it is through these devices and the ways in which their development and deployment is manipulated and used by the government in the novel that Huxley’s visionary dream becomes a nightmare and in through which it derives its horror.

Set in the year 2540, Huxley allows himself sufficient chronological distance between his own time and that of his futuristic faux utopia for the events proposed to be inscribed with an element of believability. The world that he describes has been subsumed in the giving of pleasure, and all civilised human beings have become vacuous slaves to the senses. All of their needs are taken care of for them, any pain or mental anguish solvable through a dose of soma – the legal state-backed drug – the literal ‘opium of the masses’. All people in ‘The World State’ (as is called their near-global society) believe that they are happy because they have been conditioned to love the position that they are in. Seemingly, all of their worldly needs are taken care of for them. They are oppressed by a material and sensual abundance that a highly-evolved free-market capitalist society – worshipping of ‘Our Ford’ – has given them. Everyone knows their role within the machine that provides for them and they are happy to continue working for it.

Yet this is not a voluntary role. The people are happy (or, at least, unfeeling, due, in part, to the opulence of their surroundings) because they have been physically and socially manipulated to be that way. They are clones, designed by caste to exist within a pre-destined social role. There are Alpha citizens, the elite, whose embryonic growth and development is left unhindered. Then there are Betas, their immediate inferiors; then Gammas, Deltas, and finally Epsilons. A system called Bokanofsky’s process is used to manipulate the cloned embryos as they become human beings. A combination of Pavlovian psychological techniques and environmental disturbances, such as air shortages and the introduction of chemicals, are used to mould the human being according to their specific pre-destined role within society. For example, Epsilon embryos will be starved of oxygen to a point making them suitably adept for the menial tasks that they will forever be assigned to in life. This will also deny them the tools – the intelligence – to protest against this injustice or to even realise that they are being exploited. The government of this society “predestine and condition” their workers according to their own needs. They “decant our babies as socialised human beings, as Alpha’s or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future world controllers.”

Now, drawing this analysis back into a sphere that invites comparison with the modern world today, and, in particular, contemporary British society, it is necessary to look at the recently passed academies bill (and the potential for social inequality that its implementation presents) and to ask ourselves this question. Is our new coalition government also now not trying to do the same in passing such a bill, trying to decant our babies as socialised human beings too? Are they not also preparing the children of today, in breaking up the state education system, for their predestined roles as future sewage workers or future world controllers?

Children growing up and developing within an education system that embraces the academies bill will be placed in a three tiered system that mirrors the divide found in society as a whole within a Capitalist system. There will be a clearly identifiable gap between both the actual (as has historically been the case) and now the intended education standards given to children according to their social caste. Private schools, paying their teachers the most wages and receiving the most funding for resources will still produce the most well-educated students from the richest families in the upper classes. Academies will then offer (in a complete u-turn on what they were originally supposed to stand for) a haven for the children of middle class parents who, hitherto, would not have been able to afford the fees of a private school but can now escape their child from the riff-raff and rigmarole of everyday state school life by sending them to (an already OFSTEAD rated) “outstanding school” that has chosen to fast track itself to become an academy.

Then will come the lower strata, the schools that were originally intended by the Labour government to become the academies: the rough, under-achieving inner city schools that would (if the original academies idea had been stuck to) have, in turn for investment from local businesses, offered related trades-style vocational courses that might have tackled the problem of the decreasing numbers of working class people choosing to go into higher education. This has not happened however and the billions of pounds worth of funding that was promised to these schools for desperately needed refurbishments at the end of the Labour government’s tenure, has now been cut and invested in the conversion of the already “outstanding” schools into academies.

Now, this does not mean to say that these under-achieving schools will never receive any of the funding that had originally been promised them. They might. They just have to agree to become an academy if they wish to see any of it. Therefore, there will be created a vacuum in which the traditional state school will exist. The rug has been completely pulled out from underneath its feet. Either convert to an academy allowing your school to be privatised and, not only receive funding for much needed refurbishments, but money from local businesses that will allow you to attract a much higher standard of teacher, or, refuse to become an academy and go without, meaning that no parent who is able to do otherwise will send their child to your school as the standards will have plummeted that severely.

Ruth Lea, (who, we can assume from her choice of title, may be a supporter of the academies bill) declares on conservativehome.blogs.com in her post, Three Cheers for Technical Academies, that the introduction of the academies system is “for business” – for business, that is, not for children (the area of society you might be forgiven for believing should benefit the most from a reform to the education system) – “probably one of the most welcome of the many positive messages” in the schools chapter of the Conservative manifesto. She states that “one of business’s perennial criticisms of the British education system is the inadequacy of vocational education.” She advocates the German model of schooling whereby the children are literally split into three camps, “vocationally orientated schools leading to apprenticeships; schools which prepare their students for middle level, non-professional careers; and schools which concentrate on preparation for university entrance.” She hopes that the academies system will allow Britain to implement a more “coherent vocational pathway in schools” based on this model of educational segregation. She argues that the vocational diplomas children schooled in academies study for should be “less quasi-academic and have more emphasis on technical practicalities than at present.” Children studying at academies should have their schooling limited to purely vocational subjects. They should not be armed with the academic tools that might, if they so wished, at some point allow them to transcend their ascribed vocation.

******************(Presumably Ruth Lea does not mean to send her own children to such schools, where an apprenticeship, vocational or middle level, non-professional qualification is the highest qualification a student can achieve. Her children will be those attending schools where they can concentrate on preparation for entrance to university. For, as the saying goes, you can’t mess about when it comes to your own kids.)******************

Not that the vocational qualifications are anything to turn one’s nose up at. One of the great positives of the originally proposed technical academies was that it offered a welcome alternative to many children who have neither the aptitude and/or interest for purely academic study. These schools would offer those children the chance to learn a trade and would combat the surge in the levels of youth unemployment that have been witnessed in recent years. However, even in this form, academies would be prescribing a future to children before they even have the chance to learn their own merits, their skills, their interests and hopes, for themselves. The governing body of the school would decide that the school should become an academy and would then have the power to implement this change, regardless of what the teachers, or even what the parents, might think. The trade to be concentrated on within the school would be decided by whatever local business wished to man its own future workforce through sponsorship of the school.

This does not leave much room for the individual will of the child and their right to be in control of their own destiny. Two children from an inner city state school might fair well from the conversion of their school into an academy. Child A learns a trade and is guaranteed a place in the job market that would otherwise have been denied her had her school remained focused on purely academic studies. Child B also learns a trade and, once having studied for her diploma, goes into the workplace with her friend. Yet she is a child that, given the chance, would have excelled within an academic field and would not, given the choice, have begun working in the role that she is now predestined to fill due to her school’s conversion to an academy. She has been denied the opportunity to go into higher education because of the area that she is from and the school that she attends (factors that are, more often than not, informed by class), something that is not her, or her parents, choice.

It may even be the case that the parents of Child B really did not want to send her to that school, that they themselves would have preferred that she went to a far more academically focused school. However, since the passing of the academies bill, the once (OFSTEAD rated) “outstanding” comprehensive school in the area has become a ‘free-school’ governed by well-to-do parents and local people who sponsor the school in return for the right to govern it outside the jurisdiction of the local education authority. These well-to-do parents now make the rules and can, effectively, select which students the school admits through the nature of their rules. The parents in charge of the school Child B’s parents want her to go to have decided that, for a child to be able to attend their school, they must wear an Eton-style school uniform that the parents of Child B have no chance of affording. Child B’s parents thus are forced to send their child into vocational education due to their economic situation. They are forced to ignore the fact that she is academically gifted, and would not suit vocational education in the same way that it has suited the more vocationally-minded Child A, simply because they are working class and simply because they are poor.

It is easy to then see how this situation will continue on into the future. How Child B, denied the course to higher education and higher wages previously open to children from her economic background, grows up working in a trade that does not pay her enough to buy the uniforms to send her own children to the local ‘free-school’ and she is forced, as were her parents with her, to send them into vocational education. Thus the parents in charge of the local ‘free-school’, in making such exclusive rules, have effectively segregated their own lineage from that of their lower-class neighbours by dent of their economic prowess over them.

This is a frightening eventuality and one that’s potential for harm is aptly (although unintentionally) summarised by Dr. Guy Brandon and Dr. John Hayward of the Jubilee Centre in their Assessment of Conservative Party Education Policy. They state that the academies bill represents a “vision of a market driven system with standards raised by competition; parents and other groups are able to open new schools if they are dissatisfied with ones in their area.” The comprehensive aspect of a child’s education (comprehensive – for all, including all) is completely ripped from the system that they are entered into. All rules over the governance of equality in education have been eliminated as parents are allowed to subjectively run schools, originally designed to meet the objective needs of everyone, in order to suit their own requirements for their children.

The Department for Education website states that “academies have freedom from local authority control , which means that they have autonomy over the decisions they make and the education they deliver to their pupils.” This autonomy will mean that schools, once available for the education of all children, will now pick the children they will educate, rather than the child choosing at which school they will be educated. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, on passing the bill and defending the cuts that it meant for state education, stated that the bill will allow the government to “immediately change the law so we can set hundreds of good schools free from political interference and enable them to help struggling schools….we will empower them to take over failing primaries or other schools which need their leadership.” He implies that it will become the responsibility of the “outstanding” schools, that have received extra funding (having converted into academies or ‘free-schools’) to help the worse performing schools to achieve the standards that they themselves already achieve.

Instead of directly investing money in the struggling schools, the government will create a hierarchical system whereby these schools will rely on the help of those above them. The cuts will affect negatively upon these schools alone and will force them to effectively come under the control of their more well-heeled neighbours, thus echoing and enforcing the class system of wider society within the education system. The already “outstanding” schools, unaffected by the cuts, will continue to deliver outstanding education to outstanding students with outstanding futures who will eventually form the ruling class of the country. While the underperforming schools populated by underperforming students starved of an adequate education by the cuts introduced through the academies bill, will continue to produce the exploited working classes.

A government member in Brave New World, in explaining the cloning techniques used by the government to populate their society, states that there is “nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par.” And there is nothing like ripping the heart out of the state school system for keeping the working classes where they are. What the coalition government has done in passing the academies bill is to ensure that upward mobility from the lower classes will be as hard as it has ever been and, in making such large, widespread changes, make it extremely difficult for the damage caused to be rectified. As Christine Blower, General Secretary to the National Union of Teachers, stated in her address to the union urging teachers to petition against Michael Gove’s passing of the academies bill, “education cuts never heal and will leave many children without access to the education which can help to bring about greater social justice to our society.” This bill will keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor, the imbalance in our society becoming so ingrained as to be woven into the very fabric of our education system, the schools – or the “Social Predestination Rooms” of Huxley’s novel.

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