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Year 2009 No. 60, September 4, 2009 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Tower Hamlets Lecturers Take Stand against Cut-Backs and in Defence of the Right to Education

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Tower Hamlets Lecturers Take Stand against Cut-Backs and in Defence of the Right to Education

Crisis=Cuts! Strike at Tower Hamlets College Now

Defend Jobs, Defend Education

Britain Is Teaching Too Few

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Tower Hamlets Lecturers Take Stand against Cut-Backs and in Defence of the Right to Education

Lecturers at Tower Hamlets College (THC) in East London have been taking indefinite strike action since August 27 to demand a reversal of the cuts to English language courses and to safeguard the posts of the lecturers.

            The lecturers’ union, the UCU (University and College Union), attempted to negotiate with the college, but the authorities were intransigent on imposing their dictate, precipitating the lecturers’ decision to strike. The commencement of the strike action was targeted to coincide with the first day of enrolment at the college. The UCU said that it is continuing to press for fresh talks with the college.

            UCU head of further education Barry Lovejoy said: “UCU has tried everything it possibly can to reach a negotiated settlement and avoid industrial action. Despite our best efforts, last ditch talks have failed and our members at Tower Hamlets have been left with no option but to take this action. We will continue to press for further talks, because we want to get this situation resolved as soon as possible. However, we need to stand up for education and to stand up for the most vulnerable people in the area.”

            Alison Lord, UCU branch chair at Tower Hamlets College Poplar site, said: "It is a shame that things have come to this. We had no desire to take strike action but what the college is planning is totally unacceptable. We have 800 students on waiting lists so to cut English classes like this will hit some of the most vulnerable people in London. The college hasn't consulted either college staff or the community properly."

            Pickets are being held at the college's three sites with over 50 members of staff participating actively, and the strike has the support of the vast majority of all teachers at the college. Many students have also stood on the picket lines and refused to enrol in solidarity with the teachers. The police were called by management, which wanted to enforce a so-called code of conduct that the picketers should not speak to students, but were not willing to enforce management’s orders. The UCU strikers also report that Unison members of the admin staff are supporting them where they can and have voted for strike action.

            The lecturers’ indefinite strike follows a broad community-based campaign of many strikes and protests to save 1,000 places on courses for English for speakers of other languages (Esol) and prevent some 40 plus compulsory redundancies. Funding cuts to adult health and social care as well as literacy will mean fewer places for 19+ year olds. The employer is trying to close part of the Hair and Beauty department too affecting young people. Tower Hamlets has high unemployment and a very young demographic profile. Many of the users of Esol are woman from the various national minority backgrounds.

            Funding cuts mean that around 1,000 places on courses for English for speakers of other languages are at risk at the college. Thirteen people face losing their jobs and many thousands of people in Tower Hamlets will lose the opportunity to learn English. The UCU has pointed out that the planned cuts fly in the face of new government initiatives which call on local authorities to prioritise Esol and fund courses for vulnerable and hard to reach groups. There is widespread concern amongst all staff in Further Education that cuts in FE, as part of wider public spending cuts in social programmes, are in the offing and that these cuts will continue to translate into redundancies among FE staff, including lecturers, and impact adversely on the people’s right to Further Education and society’s needs for such education.

What Are the Issues and How to Respond?

            Tower Hamlets College and others like it continue to focus on funding and the need to cut back on courses and staff as if there were no alternative. What are the needs of society, of the unemployed, of immigrant communities and of the people as a whole are not considered as part of the equation. The argument that investment in further education is for the public good and is a necessity for the economic, political and cultural progress of society has no meaning for them. The most vulnerable are those whose needs are the first to be discarded, while what is necessary for big business to be competitive in the global market is argued to be the overwhelming priority.

            It is clearly of crucial importance that FE staff everywhere discuss the necessity to safeguard the future of Further Education, on the basis that FE, like education as a whole, is a right not a privilege. The government is trying to impose an incoherence on the agenda of further and higher education, and obliterate any alternative to the thinking that what serves to make Britain “competitive” in the global market is what must be followed. In a word, this means that the agenda of monopoly capital is what the government seeks to impose, and has backed this up with its programme of “investment with reform”, which means cutting funding, while focusing on hi-tech skills for the “knowledge-based economy”, and de-skilling the rest of the workforce as a pool of cheap labour.

            On the contrary, FE and other staff in the field of education have to affirm that there is an alternative, there is a way out of the funding crisis, and discuss the way forward on this basis. Staff in FE and HE must be treated with the respect they deserve, and the sphere of education must serve both the community and the education of a populace that will be able to decide for itself the future of society and set its agenda. What are the issues, and how to begin to effect a change in the direction and motivation of education so that it will serve this common good and all the human beings in society, is the starting point for discussion among educational workers and professionals as to how to respond to the government’s agenda.

            WDIE congratulates the THC lecturers on their action to safeguard the future of FE and the needs of the communities that the college serves, and on their action in defence of their own livelihoods and against the imposition of compulsory redundancies.

Hands Off Further and Higher Education!
Education Is a Right!
All Success to the Struggle of the THC Staff!

Article Index

Crisis=Cuts! Strike at Tower Hamlets College Now

By MR, UK Indymedia, 27.08.2009

On June 5, the Principal of Tower Hamlets College, Michael Farley, emailed staff a document called “Securing the Future” that hit us like a shockwave. The ensuing 30-day “consultation process” left us with the following:

·           Redundancies (voluntary and compulsory) in the region of 30 "full-time equivalents” (i.e. about 50 people) across teaching and support staff
·           The loss of 1,000 of our 3,000 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students. The need for ESOL here is huge: last year there were 800 on our waiting lists.
·           Withdrawal of college ESOL classes from up to 11 Outreach centres on estates and in the community. Outreach students are almost all women, most of whom are only able to attend classes because they are near home. The plan is that the provision at the low levels will be provided by charities, mosques and churches, who can bid for government money to hire their own, (isolated and low paid) teachers.
·           Attack on our working conditions and working culture – in the weeks before the cuts were announced, a leaked email from Senior Management referred to the need for a “culture change” at the THC. Clearly this just the beginning of the attacks to come, with the recession used as an excuse to force the business and skills agenda further into a place with a tradition of creative and critical education.

            A brilliant campaign was fought against the plans before the end of term. Alongside the ongoing negotiations between local UCU (University and College Union) reps and the management, we accomplished much in 30 days:

·           Walkout by staff and students at one site;
·           Esol and other students created campaign materials including petitions, posters and banners, and wrote thousands of letters to the Principal;
·           A demonstration and rally of 750+ people through East London;
·           One day strikes organised so as to bring people normally isolated at different workplaces together for mass meetings;
·           Non-cooperation and mass disruption of a training event we were forced to attend, resulting in its cancellation.

            What has characterised the campaign was creativity and spontaneity; people not waiting to be told what to do, but just taking the initiative and getting things done; this and the fact that everyone was affected and therefore united in sadness and anger. At THC we were used to thinking we were lucky to have a relatively decent employer. With this illusion smashed overnight, the strength of solidarity was amazing.

            We succeeded in lowering the number of compulsory redundancies, but there are still 13 people at risk as we head into the new academic year. With management refusing to withdraw the redundancies, we are committed to all-out, indefinite strike action. We are supported by our national union and today after last minute talks got nowhere, UCU notified the college that the strike is going ahead.

            This is an exciting prospect for anarchists and political activists, but the truth is that for the workers it is also a scary time. We have been so strengthened by the amazing solidarity we have created within the college, now we need the support from those outside as well. As hundreds of people also face the prospect of weeks without income, we also need money. Support of any kind and donations and contributions are most welcome!

Mass pickets from 7:30am, 27 August at 3 main college sites.

Rebecca   rbdurand@hotmail.com
Roberto – 07905223954
John – 07967893664
UCU strike committee c/o LARC 62 Fieldgate St, Whitechapel E1 1ES


Article Index

Defend Jobs, Defend Education

Richard McEwan, the THC UCU Branch Secretary speaking of the proposed college cuts, said, “The projected surplus has fallen from £283k to £28k. … The college still has £6million in the bank. We should demand they use this to run a deficit budget to weather out the recession and so young and vulnerable people will not have to pay for the crisis.  It is a clear choice between education and profit.

            “The campaign has made many gains so far including protecting A Level core hours, reducing the number of redundancies, saving some of the Esol classes, stopped cuts to teachers prep time, won no compulsory in admin sections and saved the mentoring scheme. We have reduced compulsory to 13 jobs.”

            He continues, “There has been a tradition of political trade unionism at the college with marches to Save Esol, the unions running an Alternative curriculum, Palestine protests and 5 a side fundraisers and Love Music Hate Racism events. This has forged strong political networks inside and outside the college and helped us to move very quickly when we knew cuts were coming.

            “The slogan 'defend jobs, defend education' has united teachers, support workers, students and the community. This has been the source of our strength. We now need to reach out further into community organisations, mosques and local workplaces like the fire stations, hospitals, council building and schools to bring more workers together to defend jobs and public services in the borough.

            “The UCU will ask members to take collections as well as a £10 levy to support a dispute that has significance for the whole of the union.

            “We have called a 'Defend jobs, Defend education' support meeting in East London for Thursday 3rd of September. We have a Vestas worker coming to speak and we have invited local MPs, Esol students and strikers from the Post.

            “In the coming weeks we will try to hold lobbies of Government, more East London protests linking up the other strikes and send a large delegation to the Labour Party conference.”

Article Index

Britain Is Teaching Too Few

"The opportunity to improve English language should be a right, a chance to contribute to, and at the same time to shape, the communities in which we live and work."

This article by Saba Salman about the crisis in English language teaching appeared in the Guardian Weekly on October 20, 2006. It illustrates both the hollowness of the government’s racist and chauvinist rhetoric about “Britishness”, and the contempt shown by the government towards the principle that the claims of the people to education should be met as of right. It demonstrates that over the past three years the critical situation, far from being resolved, is getting worse, in the face of opposition from the people to cuts in social programmes.

It is 5.30am and still dark, but already a queue has started forming outside Tower Hamlets College in east London. The prospective students, including Bangladeshi older people and young Somali men and women, are desperate to get on to the oversubscribed English language lessons. At 9.30am, as enrolment finally starts, more than 200 adult learners sign up for free courses starting in January – but hundreds are turned away as demand for places outstrips supply.

            This scenario threatens to undermine the government's agenda on community integration and cohesion. Learning English is not just about brushing up on basic skills; it is a vital step towards tackling social exclusion and offers a route into employment. Last month, Gordon Brown, the Labour party candidate most likely to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister, told his party conference that more immigrants should learn language skills in order to play their part in society. He said: "It is right that people who come to and are in this country to stay learn English."

            Stressing the importance of "Britishness", he added that a common purpose is "as critical to our success and cohesion in this new century as it was in the last".

            Grand as Brown's rhetoric is, it is at odds with reality, as the Tower Hamlets case illustrates. Around 250 would-be students are now on waiting lists for courses in English for speakers of other languages (Esol) at the centre.

            "Imagine you're a student waiting to enrol from 5.30am, but you're sent away because of a shortage of places," says Rushanara Ali, a college governor. "Then you hear the chancellor saying the government will increase opportunities for people to learn English. It doesn't do much for your confidence in the system. The reality has to match the commitment."

            Tower Hamlets is one of the country's most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods – 37% of the population is Asian, compared with an average across Britain of 5%.

            A report published this month by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) highlights the national crisis in the provision of language skills to non-English speakers. The study, More Than a Language, paints a bleak picture of an underfunded, overstretched system, and training that fails to match the needs of learners.

            Further education colleges provide Esol courses with funding from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) [now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), after first becoming the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and then merging with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) – Ed.] distributed by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) [whose aims are themselves couched in business terms: “The Learning and Skills Council exists to make England better skilled and more competitive.” – Ed.]. Funding increased from $315m in 2001-02 to $516m in 2004-05, but it is not enough to meet demand. Esol enrolment trebled between 2000-01 and 2003-04, from 159,000 to 488,000. In 2004-05, there were 538,700 places on Esol courses.

            The courses, part of the government's wider Skills for Life strategy for literacy and numeracy, enable refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers to learn speaking and listening skills, reading, writing, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar. The course level offered depends on the needs of students: some have no English, while others have a basic understanding.

            The Niace report states: "The opportunity to improve English language should be a right, a chance to contribute to, and at the same time to shape, the communities in which we live and work."

            Anna Reisenberger, the Refugee Council's acting chief executive, believes that the state of language provision "seems to contradict the government's integration agenda". "Providing English language classes, at all levels – including absolute beginners – is an essential part of helping people to settle here, find work and rebuild their lives," she says.

            Teaching language skills also makes economic sense. Niace says that immigrants with fluent English are 20% more likely to be in employment, and earn approximately a fifth more than those with underdeveloped language skills.

            Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, says that without adequate language skills, Britain will fail to exploit the potential of the migrant workforce. "Those who would be able to do a skilled job are relegated to something unsuitable because they can't speak the language, and that's a total waste of talent," he says.

            So why is the system in such a parlous state? Since the enlargement of the EU in 2004, and the increased numbers of migrant workers from new accession countries, demand for courses has soared. For example, Esol enrolment among Polish nationals increased from 151 in 2000-01 to 21,313 in 2004-05.

            Some point out that Esol courses are too limited. For example, lower-level courses for those with limited skills in their first language are inadequate for many EU migrant workers.

            Mike Milanovic, chief executive of University of Cambridge Esol Examinations, criticises what he describes as a "one-size-fits-all" approach, and believes that many learners would be better served by a wider range of qualifications. "The issue is that for Esol to make any real difference in supporting integration and opening up different opportunities in work and communities, the great difference in learners' needs has to be appreciated," he says.

            Another solution would be to develop a sliding scale of funding, where learners contribute to courses if they can afford it. Niace, meanwhile, is calling for more funding and for a fundamental cross-government review of Esol. It wants the supply of teachers increased and employers to take more responsibility for boosting their workers' language skills.

            Bill Rammell, minister for further education [now minister of state (armed forces) – Ed.], has said that funding support needs to be "focused on priority groups". "We need to start looking at who should pay for this learning, and what contribution individuals and employers ought to make," he wrote last week [in other words, not provided as of right – Ed.], and a review of Esol funding is expected from the Learning and Skills Council imminently.

            But as the minister acknowledges, "the new landscape presents new challenges".

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