Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 53 Number 30, November 4, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum: Discussion on the future of education

It Is Teachers Who Hold Solutions to the Problems Facing Schools

Following the period of extended struggle to safeguard the future of education, which has seen strikes across schools, college and universities, the aims and future of education is breaking out into open discussion. Three recent articles in Schools Week serve to highlight this important development in various ways.

In one article, Mary Bousted, the former General Secretary of the NEU, described the distraction tactics employed by the Conservative Party at their recent conference [1], which could be said to be an attempt to win in the court of public opinion through wrecking public opinion.

Mary Bousted points out that the party often talks of the present "administration" rather than plainly use the word government, in an "attempt to draw a dividing line between Rishi Sunak and his government and the four previous Conservative prime ministers who have been in power for over a decade," instead painting a picture of a "clean slate". It might also be added that the past 13 years have not been so much marked by singular, consistent rule by a party in power, but rather a succession of factions into which this cartel party has descended. And that further, the same might be said of the cartel parties in opposition.

Policy announcements, she writes, are used to distract from serious matters of concern, such as the £11.4 billion repair backlog in England's school buildings. Her article also highlights the announcement of plans that have no chance of being implemented, such as Sunak's recent announcement to replace A-levels with a British "baccalaureate".

"This is not policy making with a purpose," says Bousted. "It is policy announcement to distract - to be seen to be doing something. If the reports are right and the DfE knew nothing about this announcement, then the lack of serious intent to engage in much-needed curriculum and assessment reform becomes crystal clear."

Current NEU General Secretary Daniel Kebede in another article responded to Home Secretary Suella Braverman's speech in Washington on September 26, which overtly claimed that "multiculturalism has failed", and that migration poses an "existential challenge" to the "political and cultural institutions of the West" [2].

With such talk - a particularly blatant example of the racism of the British state - he argues that "she is pinning a label to each and every student who is, or may be thought to be, from a migrant family. She is making their lives more hazardous and adding to the risks that schools must deal with."

It is teachers, acting independently, who hold the solutions. They have, says Kebede, "worked over generations to develop inclusive practices, to learn new ways of sharing cultures. They have done this against the grain of political rhetoric and government choices."

"Government policy," he says, "cuts out questions of 'race' and racism from programmes of teacher education. Government has sponsored a report which, in the words of the Runnymede Trust, seeks to 'pit the white working class against ethnic minorities'. Through frequent announcements and 'non-statutory guidance', ministers try to create a chilling effect, so that schools will be deterred from responding to issues that it is vital for our students to engage with."

An unsigned article reports that education leaders have branded Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's 10-year reform of post-16 education - including plans to replace A-levels and T-levels with a baccalaureate-style Advanced British Standard - "a joke", when schools face serious issues in staff recruitment, collapsed support services, and ongoing problems of recovery from the Covid pandemic [3].

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on October 4 presented the case for "breadth" in terms of the coming demands of business. The generation beginning school today, reports the article, would on leaving "be joining a labour market that will be unrecognisable to us. Their jobs will be shaped by artificial intelligence and quantum."

The echoes of the old "knowledge-based economy" of the days of Blair, under which education was structured around "success in the global market" are clear. "Around the world students need to keep their options open... There is strength not just in depth, but also in breadth," she said. "The world is changing faster than we've ever known."

Just as with the scandalous attack on education that the Sunak and Keegan promise in their crackdown on "rip-off degree courses", the government's logic is that the purpose of education is to set people up to "succeed" as individuals, give them the "opportunity" to earn. By sleight of hand, this is to identify the needs of students at all levels with those of business. The crucial question of who decides the content of the curriculum (for example, the new broader "baccalaureate") and with what aim is left out. Meanwhile, the arrangements are created, such as through academisation, where big business can directly control educational content.

The fight is on for the future of education, as a right that should serve the people. On all fronts, it is increasingly clear that it is only the teachers themselves who hold the solutions to the serious problems facing schools.

1. "No smoke and mirrors can hide the parlous state of our schools", Mary Bousted, former General Secretary, NEU, Schools Week, October 3, 2023
2. "Suella Braverman just made safeguarding harder (again)", Daniel Kebede, General Secretary, NEU, Schools Week, October 5, 2023
3. "Reforming post-16 right now Sunak? You're joking, say leaders", Schools Week, October 5, 2023


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