Before I studied for my degree (which I took from 2006-2009) I had absolutely no idea of what state the job market would be in when I finished. I started by doing a course in a field I wanted to pursue a career in, but found the course dry, purposeless – and when I began speaking to my lecturers in confidence, they admitted doing this course will not necessarily help me for that career, any more than if I was to study something I enjoyed (which I eventually did) and start from the bottom in a company, working my way up.
When I did finish, I was completely unaware that in order to get into my desired career I would have to work a good deal totally unpaid, which I was only able to do from the savings I had made while working as a Teaching Assistant in my gap year, and couch surfing (which is to sleeping what hitchhiking is to travel).
In order to be able to work for free for a start-up company (which recently nosedived), I had to have not just a degree, but a 2:1 degree at that. From an employer’s perspective, they want to separate the wheat from the chaff, and that will never change, but it’s disturbing that employers offering entry level jobs are under the illusion that what divides a good worker from a bad one is, not just a degree – itself fallacious – but a certain class of degree.
It is my (totally non-controversial) contention that degree educated people are no better placed to do some jobs than non-degree educated people. But some employers expect a degree educated candidate because they can think of no better way of shortlisting the 100s of people who apply for the jobs they offer.
This might be understandable if all people capable of higher study went and did so, but that has never been true; many people are nudged out of the market by being financially unable to study at university. Even when university was free, there are living arrangements to think of, food, and if there is a family involved the chances decrease lower. Now that education can come with a debt of at least £27,000, these chances become even more distant.
But not only has the commercialisation of education dissolved the real purpose of a degree, but young people are being forced to consider higher education only because they will become locked out of the market of their choosing otherwise. The incentive to study is no longer in order to immerse oneself in the traditions of the great thinkers, for whom we owe so much of our own civilisation – but because otherwise the voluntary position one has to work in order to enter at the bottom of the ladder in a company that might eventually offer you a break in the career field you’ve pined for since passing your GCSEs, won’t take you on.
While MPs rally around trying to put the brakes on our nepotistic internocracy, why don’t they also pressure employers into offering entry-level positions to non-degree educated people, while curbing the illusion that university divides people in such a fundamental way.
It’s not going to achieve much, when it comes to actually preparing the student movement and their allies in the teachers’ unions to take on and beat the cuts the Tory government demand, much less give them the class consciousness needed to take their struggle beyond a win for Labour (and their little better “graduate tax”) at the next election.
It was a risky proposition in that it may have ended up hurting people who have done nothing wrong, per se. But I bet bricking that Rolls Royce felt bloody good to those involved – and from even a cursory glance at the imagery involved, one can see why, when elected politicians are simply disregarding what they were elected promising to do.
Bad enough that wealthy men who are sucking ever so hard on the public teat themselves – whilst having enjoyed free university educations for the most part – are preparing to let university students get into massive debt, this was the monarch-to-be travelling in a car that is the last word in luxury to a gathering of immeasurably wealthy and self-satisfied celebrities who will never have to worry about such trivialities as paying for university education, blissfully unaware as the mere plebs created disorder.
Until that brick.
Some other imagery to consider. In parliament, the vote to raise top up fees passed by 21 votes. Twenty-seven Lib-Dem MPs voted to raise the fees. So the Lib-Dems are essentially responsible for the rise in top-up fees. An impressive feat for a party which promised – all 57 of its elected representatives promised – to vote against top-up fees. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Danny Alexander, educated at St. Anne’s College, Oxford – for free.
Norman Baker, educated at Royal Holloway – for free.
Alan Beith, educated at Balliol College, Oxford – for free.
Tom Brake, educated at Imperial College, London – for free.
Jeremy Browne, educated at Nottingham University – for free.
Malcolm Bruce, educated at Queen’s College, St. Andrew’s – for free.
Paul Burstow, educated at South Bank Polytechnic – for free.
Vince Cable, educated at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge – for free.
Alistair Carmicheal, educated at Aberdeen University – for free.
Nick Clegg, educated at Robinson College, Cambridge – for free.
Edward Davey, educated at Jesus College, Oxford – for free.
Don Foster, educated at Keele University – for free.
Stephen Gilbert, educated at University of Wales, Aberystwyth – for free.
Duncan Hames, educated at University of Oxford – for free.
Nick Harvey, educated at Middlesex Polytechnic – for free.
David Heath, educated at St. John’s College, Oxford – for free.
John Hemming, educated at Magdalen College, Oxford – for free.
Norman Lamb, educated at the University of Leicester – for free.
David Laws, educated at King’s College, Cambridge – for free.
Michael Moore, educated at Edinburgh University – for free.
Andrew Stunell, educated at the University of Manchester – for free.
Sarah Teather, educated at St. John’s College Cambridge – for free*.
David Ward, educated at Bradford University – for free.
Steve Webb, educated at Hertford College, Oxford – for free.
Continuing what seems to be this week’s Economist-watch, there was an article on Cameron’s Big Society ideas, and how, despite myriad flaws with the concept, this part of the Tory manifesto simply wasn’t going to go away.
What the Economist doesn’t note, of course, is that with regard to public institutions such as libraries, this ‘renaissance of voluntarism’ (I kid you note – that’s a direct quote) basically means trying to replace paid experts with ‘volunteers’, to do the same job – thus killing jobs and strong unions in one go, and getting rid, incidentally, of the one way in which anyone other than the government could determine how our libraries are run – by trade union action.
That’s by the by.
What interested me was the way in which the Big Society is presented as regards democratic theory. Everyone knows how representative bodies work. We elect people on the basis of what we think they will do. The Economist presents Big Society as aiming to push one step past this, devolving power to “nano” level.
“Traditionally, [giving powers away] meant beefing up Britain’s important local authorities. But Mr Cameron wants to push power further down, to the ‘nano’ level. This vision sees parents helping to set up new schools, public-sector workers running their own services as co-operatives, and small groups of people volunteering on local projects.”
I would like to take a shot at arguing that this method is far from more democratic than the alternative of strong local authorities. Tory Co-ops and the small groups (or large groups, as Paul has taken to pieces the Tory ‘5000 community organisers‘ policy, billed before the General Election) of volunteers, this blog has dealt with at length. What about the parents helping to set up new schools?
Beyond basic educational concerns (e.g. the integrity of the scientific method, or preventing History relapsing into a paean to Empire, with the concomitant racism), I fail to see that allowing different sections of the community to hive off their children is especially democratic. Certainly in theory it gives a great deal of power to the parents, though as Fiona Millar rightly said in a recent Guardian debate, in reality this usually translates to devolving power to some charity or private provider, with parents unlikely even to be involved in choosing or supervising the headmaster.
But in order to do this, it’s directing resources away from other state schools in the area. So the plan risks creating excess capacity at the expense of other children. There’s also the point that each school has an optimum number of pupils; enough to make economies of scale, few enough to render the school environment safe and manageable. Free schools make this impossible to plan for.
The argument, made by Anders Hultin, chief executive of Gems UK, a private company intending to step into this scheme to start opening schools for profit, is that if the market was allowed to handle the Tory policy, schools would only open in areas with pre-existing demand. I find fault with this argument – demand doesn’t just exist, it can also be whipped up artificially. This is what advertising is for.
So there are ‘externalities’, if you like, to allowing for the willy-nilly creation of new schools (and Cameron’s talk of the actual buildings these free schools might use makes my toes curl). There’s also the more vague externality of permitting further segregation of the school-age populace. Further privatisation of education will be felt in the opposition created between the success of ‘my child’ and the success of every child.
Rather than fix the state system, which should also be much more accountable, via elected school boards and local education authorities, there’s the impetus to simply jump ship. Better education requires more money, intelligently spent, and high-quality teaching. But no more money is being offered and it should be a warning bell that the Dept. of Education is advertising free schools in the same way as Academies: as being exempt from the national collective bargaining agreements with NASUWT and the NUT.
If democracy is the theory that every person should have a say in decisions which affect them, then allowing people to hive themselves into free schools or, or be scaremongered into hiving themselves off, violates that principle. The effects of that decision run far beyond any parents who might be involved, to the whole teaching profession, to the whole of the education system and to whole local areas where allocation of funding must be altered.
In fact, if Academies are anything to go by, and Gove seems to think they’re a useful parallel, then the very parents and teachers responsible for free schools might end up feeling just as excluded.
Listening to the radio this morning, I was shocked to note that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers will tomorrow debate a motion at its conference demanding that ‘the benefits system to be adjusted so that the parents of disruptive pupils lose part of their child benefit’.
Stuart Hart, one of the Cheshire-based supporters of the motion, was quoted in the Waily Mail as saying, ‘A child who is behaving badly is not only affecting themselves, but other people’s children. But there are no consequences. We want parents to think they are being hurt, in the form of less child benefit, because their child is not behaving.’
This comes as a new report, compiled on the testimony of ATL members, suggests that up to a quarter of teachers may have experienced some form of violence in work – including groping or parent rampages.
I’m at a loss to understand how anyone can think this will be effective, though I can see why the Mail has clamped on to it, as Dr. Mary Bousted certainly does a wonderful one woman “bloody parents” routine.
‘If you go into a pet shop you have to prove you are going to be able to take care of your dog before they sell you a puppy. But there’s no minimum standard for being a parent, unless you are so awful the state takes the child away from you. It’s not that children are born bad, it’s that when children behave badly at school, they are very often the results of very poor parenting.’
The Mail, evidently frustrated that Dr. Bousted wasn’t prepared to attack benefits scroungers, took a different tack and portrayed the leader of the ATL as demanding state intervention to compel parents to attend classes on how to be parents, and to remove benefits (which, said Dr. Bousted, are available irrespective of class).
Dr. Bousted appeared on Radio 4 this morning, alongside Mumsnet’s Carrie Longton, who argued that cutting benefits would do nothing, and that what was needed was increased support, smaller class sizes and continuing to build on policies that we have proof work: for example, family liaison officers or special support staff who are allotted time to wander the corridors and do spot checks on classrooms (particularly those where troublemakers are known to be).
Proposals like this seem especially ill-timed whenever the leader of the ATL itself is talking about how violence in secondary schools is on the decrease (and without the need to slash benefits). That seems to me a call to stay the course with, and increase the extent and use of, policies that are in place at schools around the country.
They lend credence to the notion that many schools are out of control, and justify stupid Tory ideas like fast-tracking former armed forces personnel into teaching jobs simply because they are physically capable and can make the place feel more like a boot camp than a school.
Reading over the speech Michael Gove made to the Conservative Conference, I’m glad that I’m already trying to get out of teaching. If the period of the last twelve years in education has been marked by increasing spin, pointless bureaucracy and policy announcements, the next five under a Conservative government appear unlikely to be any different, judging by the Shadow minister for Children, Schools and Families. In fact, in some aspects, the future promises to be worse, with plans to turn our kids into ‘patriotic’ automatons.
Most of the words that come out of Gove’s mouth are in fact piffle; meaningless. They only have meaning and relevance to a lot of people who for years have been imbibing every scare story printed in the Daily Mail about riotous kids and political correctness gone mad. Gove praises a headteacher who apparently spoke to the Conservative conference:
“He insists on a proper uniform – with blazer and tie – respect for authority, clear sanctions for troublemakers and no excuses for bad behaviour. He sets classes by ability – so the brightest can be stretched and the weakest given special support.
He teaches traditional subjects in a rigorous way and when the bureaucrats try to insert the latest fashionable nonsense into the curriculum he tells them where to get off.
There are fantastic extra-curricular activities, proper competitive sports and an amazing team of teachers – who work into the evenings and on Saturdays to give their pupils the best possible chance in life. Why isn’t every state school like that?”
Except that most schools have a proper uniform, “respect for authority”, clear sanctions, classes by ability and support for the weakest. Except that not every school is funded to the same degree and thus you have secondary schools which can afford special units for literacy and so forth, while others languish. So in the first sentence above, Gove is not proposing anything new – and he will find, if he gets his feet underneath the ministerial desk, that his hot air counts for very little when set against the cuts by which the Tories are promising to outdo their Labour equivalents, against even capitalist economic sense.
Of course it wouldn’t be Conservative conference is someone didn’t get a dig in at the curriculum. Yet, perhaps overcome by the sort of adrenaline-testosterone high that waving your cock about on stage tends to give, Gove has said something patently stupid. He has conjured up the image of the heroic headteacher fending off the bureaucrats; except that the headteacher in question is from an Academy, a group of schools to which Labour gave specific powers to shape their own curriculum. Whoops.
Not that I’m praising the system of Academies: despite double-figure millions being poured into such schools, some forty of them are still failing. Apparently the all-conquering initiative and cost-efficiency of private and third sector enterprise isn’t so all-conquering. As for the rest, where Gove discusses extra-curricular activities etc, every State school is like that. I have spent my fair share of evenings after school and friends of mine have spent their fair share of Saturdays running activities for the kids.
Even where there are no Saturday activities, the government’s Extended Schools programme is pushing every state school to offer more services during the week – whether it is breakfast club or track and field competitions. Even some of the worst schools in this part of the country are fiercely competitive at sport – the Abbey School in Faversham, for example. So Gove is laying out nothing new – but what I suspect will happen is that even more pressure is piled on without funds or personnel to achieve the goals, and yet more teachers will suffer.
Gove’s not done there though. Other pointless declarations include giving “teachers effective power to confiscate banned items and restrain violent pupils”, powers which we already have and which are clearly laid out for every new teacher. We can confiscate anything and we can restrain any pupil who is a danger to themselves or others. Plenty of state schools even have teachers given a free period once a week to wander the halls and to call into classrooms to ensure that the teacher has an effective grip on classroom discipline.
There’s also the claim that the Tories will
“…change the law so that when a head teacher expels a violent pupil– that pupil cannot plead that his human rights have been violated and then stick two fingers up to authority.”
When I was at school, I was part of the movement which organised a walk out on Day X, the day the bombing of Iraq began in 2003, I was lucky, in that some three hundred pupils walked out of my school and there was safety in numbers. A friend of mine was expelled from his school, however. He took the school to court, arguing that the expulsion was a victimisation of political dissent – which it was, whatever bureaucratic language one wishes to dress it up in. School kids, like any other section of the workforce, have the right to withdraw their consent from the State.
Walking out of school was our way of showing it – and it was remarkably successful. Literally thousands of school kids all around Northern Ireland took a (brief) interest in what was going on when people their own age began getting interviews on local and national radio stations in the run up to the outbreak of war. When war happened anyway, interest waned, which is to be expected – but the actual gesture changed the attitude of many young people. Protecting that right is important – and the basic point is that authority is not always right.
I was threatened with expulsion not just for organising the walkout but also for speaking on the radio and identifying myself as a student of Our Lady and St. Patrick’s College, Knock. The principal was raging because I brought the school into what he called ‘disrepute’ and he and the Vice-Principle kept me behind school one day in order to lecture me about appropriate behaviour. If I had been kicked out of school, it would have been a flagrant breach of my right to free speech. The sort of human right which kids don’t have, when it comes to school, according to Michael Gove.
Other elements to Gove’s speech are simply the re-announcement of existing policies, such as city technical schools to supply apprenticeships, which have existed since John Major’s government if not before and have continued under Labour. The only seeming exception is covered by Lee Griffin at Liberal Conspiracy.
Talk of social mobility rings a bit hollow in the mouth of Michael Gove when we know the cap for third-level education fees will be coming off under the next government. It rings hollow when we realise that no matter how hard anyone – everyone – works, poverty, deprivation and worklessness will continue to exist under capitalism and potentially get worse if George Osborne gets his wish to attack the deficit by massively slashing government expenditure – some of which keeps people in socially useful jobs. Like, er, teachers, teaching assistants and their support.
Then there are the elements to Gove speech which are plain fabrication or wishful thinking:
“Teachers have been deprived of professional freedom, denied the chance to inspire children with a love of learning and dragooned into delivering what the bureaucrats decree.
And we’ll ensure that experts in every field – especially mathematicians, scientists, technicians and engineers – can make a swift transition into teaching so our children have access to the very, very best science education”.
Teachers do not deliver what the bureaucrats decree. Most teachers, though I will explicitly limit this to my own experience, deliver what they want – and so long as it gets results, no one asks any questions. So long as the teacher controls the class and the exam results reach the expected target, teachers are left to do what they want. Even in terms of teaching methods, which Ofsted can be shit-hot on seeking, so long as a teacher makes a few gestures towards active learning (which actually works), then they’ll get a grade one on their observations.
As for ensuring that “experts in every field…can make a swift transition into teaching” I will be watching that policy with eyes glued. The few “experts” in their field – PhDs in history and chemistry and so on – that I’ve seen try and cut it as teachers failed miserably. They weren’t cut out for speaking in front of a class, or class discipline or some other aspect of teaching. Which isn’t something to be ashamed of because teaching is a hard job. These experts were weeded out at PGCE or GTP or NQT level, during training. So any policy planning to fast-track experts better have exactly the same safeguards as the extended training, and I doubt that it will.
This rant could continue but I shall end it with the following:
“There is no better way of building a modern, inclusive, patriotism than by teaching all British citizens to take pride in this country’s historic achievements. Which is why the next Conservative Government will ensure the curriculum teaches the proper narrative of British History – so that every Briton can take pride in this nation.”
What is surprising is just how similar this is to Labour ideas from the most recent version of the national curriculum. So similar, in fact, that there’s no difference. Every Key Stage 3 class studies British history from 1066 to late 20th Century. All the key periods are there: the wars with France, the English Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the world wars and so on. The ‘historic achievements’ notably left off are the millions of people the British Empire killed through mass starvation, war, colonization and the occasional genocide.
Which seems to match up precisely with what Gove wants us to teach. It’s bullshit. Any self-respecting academic would choke to see the sort of drivel that gets ladled out for KS3 history. Names, dates, places, inventions. Causes are occasionally talked about but these are largely focused on individuals; Did Charles cause the English Civil War? The fight between crown and church becomes a tiff between Henry II and Thomas Becket. Actually some of this is unfair; on subjects like the Crusades, the new Folens books are excellent, especially on religion.
My point, however, is that the “achievements” of this country are often achieved or paid for by one part (the rich part) employing another part (usually poor) to slaughter and rob the rest of the poor part, or the Catholic part, or the ancestors of the immigrant parts: Pakistani, Indian, Middle-Eastern, African or Afro-Carribean. I’d teach that til the cows came home, then point to the Tory Party with the words “And those fuckers are the ones who sat back and got rich off all of it”. Then see how happy Michael Gove is when confronted with a generation aware of real ‘British’ history.
Truly there is little difference between Tory and Labour education policy. They’re both equally rubbish. The only difference is in emphasis; whereas the Tories want teachers to construct a semiotic civic code based on “modern patriotism”, Labour call that “multiculturalism”. Where the Tories simplistically emphasize “discipline” and attack “bureaucracy”, in their bid to win Daily Mail approbation, Labour are more about the multisyllabic spinning into six paragraphs of what could be said in one – but the actual proposals are relatively similar.
So once again the country seems set to elect a party which can talk a good show to its supporters whilst fundamentally changing nothing. The real change is being exacted by ‘economic circumstances’, forcing cuts, in which Labour are equally complicit. The bottom line: if you want education reform don’t vote for New Labour MPs and certainly don’t vote Tory.
Ed Balls has become the first government minister to lay out where he thinks the cuts should be made in his department. Stressing that front-line teachers and teaching assistants would be kept, with money being saved through cutting ‘bureaucracy’, Balls has basically outlined the basis for the government’s strategy of ‘good cuts’ versus (one presumes) the Tory policy of ‘savage’ or ‘bad cuts’.
There were several proposals made. First, three hundred jobs in Whitehall will go – jobs described as “field forces…that advise schools on the curriculum”. Next, comprehensives across the country will be pushed to create ‘federations’, where a single management team of head and deputy heads will manage more than one school (a system sporadically in use at the moment). Finally, through ‘natural wastage’ some senior positions in schools – presumably deputy and assistant head positions – will be phased out.
All of this is part of a strategy to slash the education budget by £2bn. At first glance, a lot of teachers will think “phew” – except that Balls also mentions “pay restraint” (in non-Whitehal lingo that means pay rises below the rate of inflation or none at all, so essentially pay cuts). Even still, teachers are not indifferent to the plight of other government workers, and in some areas local government is slashing wages by up to a third, with workers voluntarily accepting this because the alternative is mass redundancies, so the overall response will probably still be “phew”.
A second glance is needed, however. While most teachers think that headteachers and their lackeys could maybe find their arsehole with both hands, a map, a compass and a flashlight, the scale of the cuts is likely to impact upon frontline teaching staff. The proposed saving tots up to £750 million, between sharing out headteachers and deputies over schools and not replacing retirees; I’d have to look at the figures to establish just how much of that is directly related to not having to pay salaries, pension contributions etc – but we’re talking in the region of 8000 staff.
That’s 8000 of the people responsible for supporting ‘frontline’ services. Whether it’s child safety, training for newly qualified teachers, PGCE or GTP student-teachers, best practice sharing with other primary and secondary schools, pastoral support or parent-teacher relations, heads and deputies perform an important function. That’s before we talk about even more central, if banal, activities such as funding negotiations, departmental budgets, hiring and firing and the school timetable. Cutting headteachers and deputies means cutting some of these services.
Do heads and deputies work four times as hard as the basic teacher? No, I wouldn’t say so. I think the pay disparity between the two sets is ridiculous – with teachers on around £22,000 and some heads earning around £100,000 per year. There is no skill possessed by headteachers and deputy teachers that warrants such a salary. This isn’t the tack taken by the government, however. What they are saying is that the same number of functions can be done by less people – and I don’t think that’s true on such a large scale as is suggested.
Cutting these auxiliary functions means impacting on frontline teaching (not to mention that quite a number of heads and deputy heads double as teachers in their own right), whether or not we’re laying off teachers, or even recruiting them at the current rate. It bears pointing out that if budgets are squeezed, teachers will not be replaced and class sizes will creep up. It’s also true that if admin functions are put under more pressure, it follows that those heads and deputies who teach will no longer be able to teach – increasing class sizes that way.
Further, all of this assumes that current levels of staffing are sufficient. I think there’s a fair case to make that they aren’t. The government can try and make out that by protecting the current number of teachers, a service is being done to the teaching profession – but it’s not like state education is perfect to begin with. We need more teachers, not less. We need smaller classes and more TAs, not the same number of each. Essentially the Labour Party is abandoning progress (at least temporarily) in deference to ‘the Recovery’.
One can argue for or against such a proposition, but it makes it all the harder to bear when there is still a glut of conspicuous consumption ongoing in this country and across Western Europe – on the part of politicians and business. Something this government has done nothing to arrest, even while the rest of us are being asked to tighten our belts, for Queen, Country and Lloyds Banking Group plc.
Nick Clegg doesn’t bother taking such a calm view of things, with his petty emotionalism on the Andrew Marr show; “It would be madness, absolute madness, as a society, to blight the life chances of the young as the economy comes out of recession…The people who’re least to blame for what’s happened are the very young. And if we want to make sure the shadow of this recession doesn’t hang over young people for generations to come: long term unemployment, social divisions then we need to deal with that.”
Won’t somebody think of the children? I’m sure the Opportunism Leader (er, Opposition Leader?) won’t be far behind him either. I agree that education shouldn’t suffer as a result of the recession – but that’s not to say there isn’t money to be saved in the education budget. Clegg’s is a knee-jerk reaction; whatever a Labour minister said, Nick Laurel and Vince Hardy would be all over it. The Tories, if they are smart will have a more intelligent critique to make – such as, if all this Whitehall bureaucracy is unnecessary, why wasn’t it cut years ago?
Small-staters will no doubt rejoice in the loss of three hundred Whitehall jobs ostensibly designed to support schools as part of the curriculum. After all, the national curriculum is an utter joke, oft derided and ignored in all but outline. That said, whatever we may think of bureaucracy, I don’t think these three hundred jobs should be cast away so lightly. They are there to support schools and teachers – and perhaps if teachers and parents had a say in what function these three hundred Whitehall staff performed at the heart of government, that support could prove invaluable.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking into exactly what that department did. I’ve already consulted a few other history teachers to ask them and none seem ever to have heard of it – but the national curriculum extends to all subjects, not just my own, and such a department may have relevance elsewhere. Primarily my interest is piqued and early warning radar set off by the manner in which Balls dismissed three hundred jobs as bureaucracy and therefore completely dispensible – hardly a credible attitude for the man in charge of the Department of Curtains and Soft Furnishings.
When it comes down to implementing all these changes, it will be the national teaching unions – including NAHT – which will set the tone of support or resistance to such changes. As I hope I have outlined, I think there is plenty of scope and reason for resistance, but what I’m most worried about is the shortsightedness of each group, the teachers, the headteachers and the ‘bureaucrats’, being a factor in frustrating co-operation in what could prove to be a serious threat to the services our schools provide.
Put in context, these cuts permit a wide-ranging debate on the future and organisation of education. A vast amount of the education budget is being spent on worthwhile programmes such as Extended Schools, which attempt to make schools a community nexus even for those whose kids aren’t attendees. For those who are, Extended Schools offer assistance with homework, healthy morning meals and other advantages. Yet around the edges of programmes like this, things are being held together with duct-tape: with already stretched staff taking on additional responsibilities for extra pay.
I think Extended Schools is something we should fight for, because it provides a physical centre for the delivery of services and a model – parent/teacher/student – of activist-led accountability in the provision of such services. Cutting back on senior staff will threaten the delivery of such services, and this should be all the motivation we need to get stuck in, our aim being both to secure the services and to redraw the relationship between ‘frontline staff’, service users and service managers – i.e. the senior staff currently in the firing line.
To protect their jobs, and prevent the overworking and understaffing of headteachers’ jobs, support will be needed from the teaching unions. Teaching unions, to do anything these days – being accused of everything short of terrorism when they go on strike – will need the support of parents. And in the delivery of services, a resource like 300 civil servants could prove invaluable – so lets all protect their jobs as well. Once the momentum has been seized from government, let’s use it to draw up the education system we deserve.
The bottom line is pretty clear; there are no such things as ‘good cuts’ when it comes to education and this is as good an opportunity as the profession is ever going to get to organize itself without being isolated by the extreme rhetoric of government, perchance to resist the oncoming bulldozer-cum-wrecking ball that is Building Schools for the Future. It’s a chance to gear up for the sort of local activism which seems to be increasingly necessary when we actually look at the agendas being proposed for local goods and services.
I gotta say, I haven’t been impressed with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s quest for the Democratic Presidential nomination. He’s a Trustee of my University (Tufts), and a graduate of our undergraduate and graduate foreign policy school (Fletcher), but hey, he just hasn’t done it for me. He said his favorite Supreme Court Justice was Justice White, because he was a good (American) football player, (White wrote the dissent in Roe v Wade), which was either a poor attempt to woo pro-life Democrats, or a poor attempt to woo late ’30′s Pittsburg Pirates or early ’40′s Detroit Lions fans.
Add to that his gaffe of addressing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as the AFSCME. When you’re in a big, crowded hall full of people, and well, there are signs everywhere that say “SEIU,” you should get it right. This sounds like the stereotypical rock band joke, where they’re in Detroit, and yell “Thank you, Chicago!” At least rock stars have the excuse of all the drugs they take. Richardson is a professional politician.
So, what did Bill Richardson do? Well, I’m reading my mainstream yahoo news article, and I read that different Democrats offered their education plans. Hillary Clinton offered 250 million, mainly in tax credits and such, and then I read Richardson’s plan gives 60 billion. I blink a few times. 60 billion. That’s a lot of money. And for what? 2 years of free public college, in return for one year of public service, like the Peace Corps, Americorps, of Teach for America, the article reports. And at some universities, students could qualify for as much as 4 years of tuition. Add to that his support of universal pre-kindergarten, opposition to vouchers, and support for higher teachers salaries, according to his website, and that ain’t half bad.
Holy crap. This sounds like an actual, good program. I know, I’m scratching my head too. Where does the money come from? I tried to figure it out, and it appears that nearly all of it is supposed to come from “cut[ting] unnecessary Cold War-era weapons system” or at least, that’s what his white paper says. Good luck getting that through Congress, but hey, if he can do it, more power to him.