Reclaiming Education 2017. A National Education Service – what should it mean? Held on 11 November 2017
The conference was called under the umbrella of Reclaiming Education, an alliance of organisations including the Socialist Education Association, CASE and ALLFIE, the Alliance for Inclusive Education.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Labour’s plans for a National Education Service. So the major focus should have been Labour’s 10 point Charter for a NES. Curiously, the Charter was distributed at the Conference but was not directly discussed. This was a missed opportunity.
The Conference heard from a range of speakers discussing interesting aspects of the various phases of an overall education service – early years, higher education, further education and schools. To have such an overarching and broad sweep of education was clearly a good approach.
Speakers from 2 political parties addressed the conference. Jonathan Bartley from the Greens spoke out about inclusive education and in support of the NEU (National Education Union) policy on academisation, privatisation and selection. Scrap SATS, abolish Ofsted, get rid of academies, were his rallying calls. By contrast, Mike Watson, the Labour education spokesperson in the House of Lords, was much more equivocal and was not as explicit on these issues. He came across as weak.
On early years, we were treated to an interesting presentation on early childhood brain development. From this presentation it became clear that the early years education approach should be more play-based and not formal and rigid and test-based as the case is now. Furthermore, to have an early years baseline assessment was also called into question.
On higher education, we heard about the need to avoid the artificial and negative distinction between the ‘elite’ universities and the rest. And that universities shouldn’t be just for young people.
As far as further education was concerned, the speaker made a case for changing the way that students pay fees but did not call for or discuss the abolition of fees. Of course the demand for fees to be abolished has been made by students themselves. In the light of this it was pointed out from the floor that the conference should have invited representation from the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts so that the voice of progressive students could have been aired.
The Conference was addressed by Save Our Schools, a Brighton based parents’ group which operates in a similar way to Rescue Our Schools here in London. Save our Schools has done very useful work with headteachers and the local community on the issue of reversing the cuts to education. Area based parents’ groups like SOS operate on their own but also liaise on an informal level with other groups nationally.
Kevin Courtney of the NEU spoke on the issues facing schools. He said that in the last election 750,000 people changed their vote because of their disgust about cuts to schools budgets. There is a massive crisis, he pointed out. The main elements of this crisis are:
- Funding, of course
- The massive scandals around academies. Lack of accountability and financial mismanagement come to mind, and
- Assessment or more accurately, ‘misassessment’ in which official tests focus on the wrong things in the wrong way and even at the wrong stage of a child’s development.
Kevin urged us to be bold as we take forward the campaign on education in our areas.
A number of very interesting documents were distributed at the meeting. All of these deserve to be discussed by serious activists. They are:
- Labour’s 10 point Charter for a NES. It makes this commitment: “The National Education Service shall provide education that is free at the point of use, available universally and throughout life”.
- Manifesto by Rescue Our Schools (a parents organisation). “The world’s most successful education systems have no selection and there’s no evidence it [selection] improves standards or life chances.”
- 10 Goals by Education Forward. The first goal is “schools should be judged on a much broader set of outcomes (eg students’ resourcefulness; their ability to engage with political, economic and ecological issues; their confidence with digital technologies; their enjoyment of reading)…”
- A position paper by Reclaiming Education – “The focus of education should be collaboration rather than competition”, is one of the many good points it makes.
- A proposed Inclusive Education statement distributed by Islington Constituency Labour Party. In the present system, “any child or young person who does not reach the arbitrarily determined standards for their age is vulnerable to exclusion”, it states.
- A proposed resolution for NEU Conference 2018 on Inclusive Education submitted in the name of Hackney NEU/NUT. It urges us to mount a “Campaign to ensure sufficient and mandatory training for all beginner and in-service teachers on how to implement inclusive education of SEND students in their classrooms and schools.”
The conference had many positives. Let’s build on them.
After the Grenfell disaster it is shocking that, in the latest round of massive cuts announced last week by Transport for London and London Underground, they have stated their intention to slice a further 10% or £3million from their health and safety budget. Sadly, the safety standards Fennell tried to build into the rail system which required all stations to be staffed, have been abandoned by managers and their Tory political masters who prioritise rail returning profits over transporting passengers safely.
The next SERTUC International Sub-Committee meeting will be at 5pm on Thursday 7 December at Congress House, TUC HQ in Great Russell Street.
The guest speaker will be Bernard Regan, who will speak about his book on 100 years of the Balfour Declaration.
Anyone who would like to attend should contact Darren Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance to get their names on the list.
Bernard Regan completed his PhD at St Mary’s University and Surrey University in 2016 having studied with Professor Nur Masalha and Dr Claire Norton. His research focussed on Palestine and the British Mandate between 1917 and 1936. He is the author of “The Balfour Declaration: Empire, Mandate and Resistance in Palestine”. (Publication November 2017. Publisher Verso).
He is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at St Mary’s University
He returned to academic study after a career teaching in Primary, Secondary and Special Education. He has also taught in Further, Adult and Higher Education and run education courses for trade unionists on international questions especially related to Palestine and Cuba.
Whilst teaching Bernard Regan was a member of the National Union of Teachers Executive Committee for 25 years and during that time took an especial interest in Government Education policies and in the Union’s international work. His international work in the Union centred on Palestine and Cuba and the development of Education within these countries.
He has written on the impact of Neoliberalism on Education policies in the national press and numerous journals.
He has led trade union delegations to Palestine and Israel, visiting schools, meeting students, teachers and Educational administrators. He co-authored the 2006 policy of the Trade Union Congress on Palestine. In 2008, along with Michael Kustow (former Commissioning Editor Channel 4 and director of ICA), he developed a series of initiatives entitled Another Israel aimed at giving space to the voices of dissident Israeli intellectuals and activists.
He is one of the Co-organisers and a contributor to the annual Latin America Conference which has now been held in London for the last 12 years. The conference is recognized as the largest of its type in Europe and brings together contributors from Latin America, intellectuals, academics, activist/campaigners, students and trades unionists. Amongst its contributors over the last 12 years have been Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, Ernesto Laclau, Aleida Guevara, Tariq Ali and ambassadors from Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela.
He was the first recipient of the NUT’s Steve Sinnott Award for international work in 2015.
In 2016 he was the first foreigner to receive the Frank País medal of the SNTECD (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, la Ciencia y el Deporte – Cuban Education Union).
Friends of the TUC may want to give this document a look: the Fabian society has done some research into perceptions of trade unions by workers who generally aren’t in them. Despite undoubted problems, some of the data is actually encouraging, suggesting that the work of unions is atually broadly understood and highly regarded. It is clear that the unions don’t feel approachable to a lot of younger workers, though.
The Cable Street battle has gone down in history as a fine example of working class solidarity, working class organisation, and working class success.
The leaders of the response to Mosley’s Fascists’ intent to march through their East End community, and to the state’s intent to facilitate it, drew together the many people and cultures of their neighbours, as well as winning the support of the politically aware to ensure that the Fascists did not succeed.
Of course, this did not happen in a vacuum and the book includes context pieces that chart the background to this East End area, the rise of Fascism across Europe, as well as the world economic situation and the Spanish Civil War and Second World War wars that followed.
And finally we look at the state of far right politics today, knowing that Fascism lurks ready to utilise the continued poverty and hardship facing many people by offering easy and fake scapegoats.
As ever there are many books published that offer a detailed and referenced history of Cable Street. We do not intend to compete with them, rather to offer an accessible entry to the wider issues of the moment.
The Battle of Cable Street was written by Peta Steel and is published by SERTUC. You can download it here, or printed copies are available, price £2, from the office:
London, East & South East Region, TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. Send cash or a cheque payable to SERTUC.
Unite Legal Services lodged claims against the Conservative-controlled council’s treatment of Kathy Smith, a council employee and Unite branch secretary, who firmly opposed the council’s mass privatisation agenda.
Council bosses removed her full-time trade union facility time in June 2015, which the tribunal found was ‘not only about cost or finances’ but that there was a wider issue at play ‘namely the way in which the [Council] viewed the unions’.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett hailed the result as ‘a great victory for the rights of trade union reps which sends out a strong signal to other local authorities’.
The ET found in favour of Kathy Smith on three counts – two regarding trade union victimisation in order to deter her from carrying out trade union activities and one for breach of the right to paid time-off for trade union duties.
The tribunal was critical of the council on other points also and found that an email sent by Cllr Payne, after Ms Smith raised concerns about people using the public libraries to view pornography, was ‘pejorative’ and that it was unfortunate that such an important matter was used as a vehicle to criticise Kathy about procedure.
The tribunal found that the trade unions’ objections to cost-cutting and outsourcing was an irritation to an organisation that was embarked on a ‘commissioning journey’.
The tribunal concluded that the council wanted to minimise the role of the trade unions within the organisation, while doing the bare minimum to act within the law in respect of the rights contained in the legislation.
The tribunal also noted that Kathy Smith was clearly a conscientious union representative and spent a lot of her own time on union work. The council now has 28 days to settle on a figure for damages or there will be a remedy hearing to determine the extent of the damages.
Kathy Smith said: “I am delighted that the employment tribunal agreed that I was victimised for carrying out lawful trade union activities. The council’s consistently hostile attitude caused me great upset and distress.
“It has been a very stressful time, but worth it because justice prevailed. I would like to thank Unite for the steadfast support that I received throughout this period.”
Howard Beckett said: “This case went to the heart of what is the legitimate role of a trade union representative in the workplace and the responsibilities they have to represent their members.
“The ET heard serious allegations of victimisation against our long-standing branch secretary Kathy Smith who bravely stood up against the council’s unpopular privatisation of local government services.
“This judgment sends out a clear signal to local authorities across the UK, which may be tempted to erode the rights of trade union reps, to think twice about adopting a similar course of action, as the law won’t support, and Unite will not allow, such activities.”