Workers and students win key concessions from exploitative university

IWGB unionists march in London

On 25 and 26 April 2018, workers from the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) in the University of London (UoL) went on strike against the outsourcing of contracts which harms working conditions. The IWGB’s president, Henry Chango-Lopez, called it ‘the biggest-ever strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education history’. Over 100 low-paid, outsourced workers from the Senate House participated. The rally on 25 April attracted hundreds of workers, students and other supporters. With further strike action threatened, the University of London management announced on 24 May that it would begin a process to end outsourcing and bring facilities and management contracts back in-house, a major step towards victory for the IWGB campaign. Nonetheless, workers are holding the management to their word and will go ahead with strike action planned for 6 June. Elias Haddad reports.

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Academy schools: from blue-sky thinking to a foggy future

Protest against the academisation of a primary school in Newham in February

When academy schools were introduced by the Blair Labour government in 2000, they were taken out of the local education authority (LEA) control, given extra funding, and promoted as examples of the superiority of the private over the state sector. The government made an alliance with the ‘carpet king’ – millionaire Carpetright owner and Conservative Party donor, Philip (later Lord) Harris of Peckham. The original deal was that for a down payment of £3 million, any business could take over and run a school. Today, the Harris Federation runs 40 schools and pays its chief executive, Sir Daniel Moynihan, £420,000 a year. Where does this money come from? From the budget of the Department for Education (DfE), the same budget as for LEA schools. Far from escaping the state, academy schools depend on it for finance, and have received more than their fair share of funds. Now they face massive budget deficits and debt, and an estimated one-third of them are facing financial crisis.

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Scandal and fraud in the apprenticeship business – again

Education Is A Right2

Despite its silly name (which would fail a seven-year-old a Sats test), Learndirect is a training and apprenticeships ‘provider’ with a seriously large contract worth £158m a year from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (EFSA). It was privatised in 2011 in a £36m transfer to Lloyds Bank, which was 40% owned by the government at that time. An investigation by the Financial Times revealed that in the four years following privatisation the company spent 84% of government-provided cash on payments to managers and financiers, loaded itself with £90m of debt and diverted £20m in dividends from its operating company as profits dwindled. In 2012, it spent £500,000 on sponsorship of the Marussia Formula One team (Financial Times, 15 August 2017).

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Plot against Muslim community exposed

islamophobia

In 2014 a torrent of abuse was launched against schools in Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford about a conspiracy by Islamic extremists acting as school governors in an undercover plot to take over schools – the Trojan Horse.

A wave of Islamophobic racism swept through the media. The retired Commander of Counter Terrorism Control, Peter Clarke, was appointed to lead an investigation into 25 Birmingham schools. Tony Blair joined in, recklessly linking the so-called Trojan Horse plot to the fundamentalist organisation Boko Haram.

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Labour’s manifesto on education

Labour’s pledge to recast the state education system as a National Education Service providing free ‘cradle-to-grave’ educational provision ‘as a right, not a privilege’ at first sight seems radical. However, to implement this commitment, a Labour government would have to be prepared, not merely to raise the funds, but to challenge the huge private sector interest in the education business world that they themselves invited in and funded.

Outsourcing every aspect of educational infrastructure from exam boards to payroll has led to significant privatisation of the state education system. The UK takes a large slice of the £130bn educational technology market, with schools paying £900m a year to profit business providers. A complete reversal of Labour’s financial collaboration with corporate interests would be necessary to implement recommendations of the manifesto. The pledge to return to ‘national pay bargaining for teachers and support staff’, for example, is not possible without the abolition of academies, ‘free’ and ‘faith’ schools, as well as selective Specialist, Beacon and City Technology Colleges. These institutions set their own curriculums, admissions policies and wages and conditions for staff and are ‘stand-alone’ autonomous organisations although financed by the state.

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Interview with Durham teaching assistant

durham lions

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! gives our full solidarity to the Durham teaching assistants who have been engaged in a heroic struggle against Durham Labour council to defend their jobs, wages and conditions. The Labour councillors voted unanimously in favour of 23% pay cuts for the teachers. Our supporters in the North East attended their recent march and rally (Durham teaching assistants continue fight against wage cuts) and interviewed one of the organisers of the campaign, Sam, who is also a teaching assistant. We produce the interview in full below.

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Education cuts mean education cuts, Prime Minister

Three issues today demonstrate the determination of the government to attack schooling in England and Wales. The first is the continued fragmentation of the state education system by the introduction of divisive school models such as the ‘free’ schools, sponsored academy schools, specialist schools and now by extending grammar schools. The second is the reduction of school income under the pretext of ‘ending the postcode lottery’. The third attack comes from freezing the overall school budget so that £3bn will be cut by 2019-20.

There is indeed an inherited unfairness in the school funding formula in England and Wales measured by per pupil spending. Inner London schools receive an average £5,918 for each student while in Blackpool it is £3,336. Education Secretary Justine Greening is preparing a White Paper to change the designated school grant from the Department for Education (DfE) to local education authorities to even out the distribution of money and end this ‘unfairness’ (see FRFI 155).

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Boycott the racist school census: Keep border controls out of our classrooms

school census

The Home Office has admitted that it intends to use data from this year’s school census to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrant children. For the first time, from October 2016, the school census includes questions about nationality and country of birth. The Department of Education will pass on information on up to 1,500 children a month to immigration officials, bringing the UK Border Agency right into Britain’s classrooms. The information is used to track down and deport migrant children and their families. When some schools and nurseries in Hackney, in east London, collected nationality information in July 2016 the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. The RCG and other activists such as Against Borders for Children (ABC) have been mobilising against the January 2017 census, encouraging all parents to show solidarity and exercise their right to write ‘refused’ next to these intrusive and patently racist questions.

This racist census is the latest assault in a much longer trajectory of the British state targeting the children of migrants. In 2013 the government discussed excluding children with ‘irregular’ immigration status from schools; in 2015 the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for a review of ‘education tourism’ and how much it is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants. Theresa May wanted the 2016 Immigration Act to legislate for the withdrawal of school places for children with irregular immigration status, and called for schools to check passports before accepting new pupils. This was rejected by other government officials – in favour of placing a legal duty on schools to collect pupils’ nationality and country of birth data via the census.

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Racism in education suspensions

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 1 – November/December 1979

The case of the young Rastafarian in Leeds is but one example of the vicious intolerance of the teaching profession and its desperate need to keep control and discipline over the pupils.

In June 1979 there was a public meeting instigated by the United Black Women's Action Group to tackle the immediate problems affecting black children in Haringey schools. Within the last year, and within the London Education Authority alone, black parents have met in Camden, Hackney and Brixton to organise their protests against the treatment their children are receiving from the schools. At a recent meeting of the Islington Committee for Community Relations a speaker from the Caribbean Teachers' Association described school common-rooms as 'citadels of prejudice' and urged action on racism in schools.

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Fight racist and elitist selective education

Since 2007 every school has had to submit its census twice a year.  This information identifies free school meal eligibility, ethnicity (numbers of EAL pupils – English as an additional language) and Special Educa­tional Needs. The numbers determine how much funding the government gives to each school.

This year the Department for Edu­cation has requested additional information, the nationality and country of birth of pupils to be confirmed by presentation of the child’s passport. This information is due to be sent to Department of Education on 6 Oct­ober and schools have to check nationality status every term.

Parents can, before this date, declare that they want to opt-out and refuse to give this information to schools. If they have already given this information before this date, they can instruct schools not to send this information to central government as it will end up in the hands of immigration enforcement. All schools, nurseries and child-minders should be giving parents an option to opt out from providing this additional information. School letters should have the option ‘I do not wish to provide this information’ and also state that ‘there is no requirement for the school to see your passport or birth certificate’.

Some schools and nurseries in Hackney already collected this information in July and the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. It is vital that no parents comply so that there is a united front against this ruling. There is a good leaflet advising parents of their right to opt out at schoolsabc.net/resources which provides a template letter for parents to send to their school or nursery. Solid­arity of all parents/carers can succeed against this piece of state racism.

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The unacceptable face of capitalist education

Falmer academy protest

The attack on state education, initiated by the Labour Party’s smear on ‘bog standard’ local authority schools in 2001, has led to the massive plunder of public funds under the academies project. The budget of the Department for Education is shrinking in real terms, just like the BHS pension fund, but a stream of cash flows into the pockets of a few. While BHS boss Philip Green’s family received £307m in BHS dividends from 2002 to 2004, the pension fund of 11,000 current and 20,000 future retirees dried up. While school finances freeze, the rip-off merchants help themselves.

Ian Cleland, the chief executive of Academy Transformation Trust, which runs 21 schools in the Midlands and the east of England, receives an annual salary of £180,000 and expenses, which include joint insurance with his wife on a XJ Premier Luxury V6 Jaguar car (plus a £500 service and £402 for new tyres). In March of this year Cleland said the Trust was looking to save £500,000, and staff were required to reapply for their jobs: ‘The education sector is facing a number of significant financial challenges across the country with all schools, academies and multi-academy trusts being affected. As a result it is essential that we review our costs and consider where savings can be made, without impacting on the quality of education.’ (The Observer 24 July 2016)

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Keep the caterers: University of Manchester staff win fight over jobs and pay

The University of Manchester was left with egg on its face after it was forced to backtrack on plans to make 43 catering staff on campus and in halls of residence redundant.

The staff are employed by university subsidiary UMC Limited on zero-hours contracts with none of the protections and benefits of in-house employment. They were informed of these redundancies in March, just one month after the university agreed to pay them the Living Wage – itself the result of years of pressure from staff and students on campus. The proposals would also have changed the contracts of remaining staff from full-time to term-time, reducing their salaries by a third.

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Tories back down on academies

The Tories got it wrong

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has had to back down over plans, announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s budget, to force all schools to become academies (see FRFI 250). The proposal was foolishly dogmatic and was opposed by many, including Conservatives, who relish their role in local councils and on school governing boards and felt insulted by the idea that another institution could do the job better. Morgan got this wrong. It is as if she forgot that recent governments have been able to impose changes in the state education system only by playing off one section against another with special favours and extra grants. This was a diktat too far and there was a revolt against what was seen as the ‘nationalisation’ of the country’s schools and direct rule from Whitehall. Morgan will continue to use the inspectorate Ofsted as a useful intermediary, as it retains powers to take schools away from local education authorities if they are deemed to be ‘below the floor’.

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Academisation: this time we are all in this together

Academisation

The turmoil in the Conservative Party after the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith over proposed cuts to disability payments was spectacular. But Chancellor George Osborne’s biggest budget bombshell was the announcement that all primary and secondary schools in Britain must become Academy schools by 2022. Leaving aside the 7% of pupils educated in the private sector, this decision will affect the entire compulsory school population from the age of 5 to 17 years. To put this announcement in the budget speech, hijacking the role of the Education Secretary, indicates that the government has determined on far-reaching plans to change the structures of local and central government to its own advantage. This is an uncosted proposal; the only figure mentioned is the £1.5bn that will be stripped from local education authorities. Given that the current academy budget has been overspent by £1bn over two years, compulsory academisation is clearly a political priority that this government is prepared to finance whatever the cost.

Shrinking or expanding the state?

Academisation means that jurisdiction for schools is taken away from local authority control and become the direct responsibility of central government through the Department for Education (DfE). This represents a massive expansion of state-centralised control – which is why academisation has been described as ‘nationalisation’ by many commentators. The delivery of teaching, the organisation and day-to-day running of schools will be dispersed through a variety of education businesses, charities and religious foundations, otherwise known as ‘sponsors’. It is within these sponsored areas that the government intends to shrink state responsibility for schooling.

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Edinburgh school closures – the consequences of PFI

Following inspections in Gracemount and Craigmount High Schools in Edinburgh this month, 17 schools in the city were closed indefinitely following the Easter holiday. Five high schools, 10 primary schools, and two additional support schools, were found to be structurally unsound, with ‘severe defects’, leaving over 7,000 pupils unable to return to school in the run-up to exam times.

In addition many poor families in Edinburgh, who often rely on free meals to feed their children, have been severely affected. At one of the schools, Broomhouse Primary in the southwest of the city, over half of pupils qualify for free school meals. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of families who are forced to use food banks, as they rely on benefits or poverty wages for income.

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Student accommodation ‘the top-performing property investment field in the UK’

‘The UK student accommodation market is a rapidly expanding and increasingly lucrative field of investment. Growing faster than any other asset class since 2011, the number of UK students is predicted to grow at a rate of 15-20% over the next five years, increasing demand and making student accommodation the top-performing property investment field in the UK.’ (Select Portfolio investment newsletter, November 2015)

Investment in student housing reached a five-year high last year. According to the estate agent Savills, £5.8bn was pumped into the market in 2015. Newcastle is no exception to this growing trend, as investors rub their hands over the easy profits to be made from student accommodation. Government figures obtained by the local newspaper reveal that Newcastle has one of the highest proportions of student homes in England: ‘figures from The Department for Communities and Local Government show that the city had 7,578 homes exempt from council tax due to occupation by students. This represents 6% of the housing stock; one in 17 homes.’ (The Chronicle 19 Jan 2016)

Current schemes in Newcastle have created 11,000 student rooms since 2008. In contrast, in 2009 the council announced plans to build a mere 1,650 new council homes over a ten-year period and is currently missing this target by 38.3%. Addressing the lack of decent social housing is not an attractive investment prospect compared to the lucrative student accommodation market. The needs of communities are being overlooked whilst huge investment projects are swamping the city centre. Meanwhile, Newcastle Labour council has just unanimously voted through another £32m worth of cuts to services, bringing the total to £222m over the last five years.

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