At the 146th Annual Trades Union Congress held from September 7-10 this year, two composite motions were passed concerning education. This was set within the context of what the delegates identified as the appalling squeeze on living standards throughout Britain which “shows no sign of abating” and noted that the apparent economic growth has brought no relief to the vast majority of workers. Congress also deplored the increasing use of privatisation and casualisation as a further means of restricting pay, allowing some employers to circumvent minimum wage law.
The two composite motions concerning education were entitled, “Maintaining a world class education system” (C10: Motions 31 and amendment, 32 and amendment, and motion 34) and “Restoring democratic accountability in the school system” (C11: Motions 33 and 35).
These two composites reflect the preoccupations of the unions in trying to grapple with what amounts to an assault both on the educational provision for young people in Britain as well as on the working conditions of teachers and all those who work within the education sector. It also highlights the necessity of guaranteeing education as a right for all.
The first composite focused on what has been achieved and built in terms of educational standards in Britain, and it condemned what it described as “the ideologically driven denigration of public education and the unremitting assault on the professionalism, pay, working conditions and jobs of teachers and support staff in schools, which”, it said, “are damaging to children’s educational progress and achievements”, and that “government attacks on pay and conditions of school staff are an attack on education”.
Supporting this idea, it notes that “teacher working hours have gone up by over 10 per cent since 2010 and these extra hours are not spent on tasks that support students or improve teaching and learning”.
The Composite 10 then went on to congratulate “those unions campaigning to reclaim the promise of public education by ensuring that quality educational opportunities are accessible to all children and young people”. It praised the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) for successfully challenging then education secretary Michael Gove’s proposals, and noted that his approval rating amongst the public was somewhere between 9 per cent and 16 per cent.
The composite also focused on music education and the increasing cuts to funding. It reported that the Musicians’ Union and the Music Industries Association (MIA) have launched a new campaign “to help support the invaluable work carried out by music teachers around the UK”. Music teachers, it said, are particularly being affected by job cuts, by a worsening in terms and conditions, and by the casualisation of the workforce, and that it highlighted the “increasing fragmentation of the education system”. It is somewhat ironic that Nicky Morgan, who replaced Gove as Education Secretary, has now raised anger and opposition through her grossly philistine statement that choosing to study arts subjects at school could hold young people “back for the rest of their lives”.
Composite 10 welcomed and supported the five demands of the NUT’s Stand Up for Education campaign, as well as commending “the positive vision set out in ATL’s Shape Education manifesto”, which it said “puts students’ futures before profit, school collaboration before competition, and properly funds the transition from schools and colleges to work with excellent careers guidance”.
The composite concluded with fifteen resolutions to support the various education unions’ campaigns, to expose the ill effects of government education policy, to secure national pay and conditions of service for all teachers and support staff in all state-funded schools, to properly fund schools and colleges, and importantly, to “make education a key strand of TUC campaigning up to the general election 2015” by “setting out to all political parties an alternative education vision”.
The second composite motion focused on the need to restore “Democratic accountability in the school system”. It dealt with the Coalition government’s academies/free schools programme and its concomitant attacks on local government responsibilities and funding which, it said, are causing huge problems of democratic accountability in the education service. The motion accused the government of carrying out secret practices “in promoting unnecessary free schools and unregulated academies”, which it said “amounts to a gross misuse of public funds” and takes away from the public funding of schools. It also criticised the “escalating number of fraud, nepotism and corruption investigations associated with academies and free schools”. It reported that the Secretary of State had taken £400m from the basic needs budget to fill a hole in the free schools’ budget when statistics showed “a rapidly rising primary school population, and a rising number of infant schoolchildren in classes of over 30”. In broad terms, the motion criticised the flagrant profiteering that is being carried out on state education. It also asserted, “Local authorities are best placed to ensure fair access to education for students and support schools in times of crisis, being close at hand and familiar with local contexts, but must be permitted the resources needed to maintain and deploy the necessary support and expertise.”
To redress these wrongs, the composite called for a “Public Accounts Committee” to be formed that could provide “a fit-and-proper persons test for academy trustees”, whilst demanding “a transparent and equitable funding system for all state-funded schools regardless of status, administered by a democratically accountable middle tier responsive to local needs”. It reiterated, “Funding for public services must not be for private gain.” This “middle tier” was put forward by the motion as a necessary measure that would sit “between government and schools, for oversight of the education system” and for restoring decision making to local authorities.
Composite 11 concluded by calling on the political parties “to commit themselves to a middle-tier based on democratically elected local authorities, holding requisite powers over school place planning and admissions, funded adequately for their role in providing monitoring, support and intervention, and with a strong commitment to a community cohesion”. The motion was moved by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).
These composite motions underline the grievous situation that teachers and other workers within education are not involved in the running of their schools, or in the forming of curricula, exams, of setting standards, or indeed, in the determination of wage structures. In short, what is needed is that those who are engaged in the provision of education should be a central part of the decision-making process in all aspects which affect their lives, based on the outlook of providing the education to the younger generation which will fit them to take up the responsibility for the future of society.