Large numbers of teachers took action this week and others will be doing so later this month in the build up to a national strike. These teachers are taking a stand to defend the future of education. But while teachers recognised the gravity of the current crisis in education, party conferences have been mute. The only comments we heard were from Cameron, popping up to condemn the teachers’ action, and from UKIP, who want to bring back the secondary modern system, by reintroducing grammar schools.
Teachers are the only workers at present that are defending the nation’s education system. Parents who struggle when pupils are off because of a strike have a right to be annoyed but they must see the bigger picture. Parents must defend teachers and attack the government; they must help teachers to prevent the complete dismantling of state education. Protecting teachers’ wages, pensions and working conditions is protecting education.
Academies and free schools are not simply more choice for parents. They are the Trojan Horse of privatising education, both secondary and primary, and removing all accountability from local authorities and parents and placing it in the hands of unelected academy chains. These chains will soon be allowed to make profits, and then access to good education will be subject to market forces. We can all foresee that this government will give the green light for an American buyout of these Academy Chains and our control of our education system will have gone completely.
Universities have already effectively been removed from state education and are being run along commercial lines. This forces academics to shift their research focus away from what benefits the country through growth of knowledge to what benefits the university commercially in the short term. Funding for higher education has become another crisis in the making. Students become customers buying a service while accumulating a vast debt; a debt that so many will not be able to repay because their wages will be too low. The end result will cost the country a fortune in years to come.
There has been little response to all this from Labour who have yet to commit to reversing any of these policies. While they have announced such ideas as Gold Standard Technical Baccalaureate- high esteem vocational qualifications at 18 and a Skills Taskforce – and more support for childcare, there has been no promise to deal with the structural attacks on education itself. This is hardly surprising given Labour’s role in introducing academies and their previous sustained attack on wages and pensions.
Now is the time for the education unions to come together, to stand as one, and to draw up a Vision for Education which can form the basis of demands and action to reclaim our education system.