On behalf of East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group
On 29 June Dame Rachel De Souza wrote an article for the Eastern Daily Press, titled the ‘Norfolk Academy Trust reveals Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’.
Like all schools and academies the COVID19 pandemic has taken the wheels off Inspiration Trust’s schools in Norwich and across Norfolk. In the article, Dame De Souza states that pupils will be returning early from the summer break to make up for lessons lost during lockdown in a desperate effort to put the wheels back on. We think that there is another road, an alternative route out of this pandemic that our schools could take and build for a better future.
We feel that this quest to reopen, particularly during a period when the Coronavirus is seen to be on the rise in some areas, in the middle of what promises to be a very busy holiday period for the region is irresponsible and short sighted in the extreme. It is plain that hubs of infection are springing up from as close as Suffolk, and in Leicester where schools are currently closing. During the “opening” period people from these regions will be flocking to our city and holiday destinations raising the level of risk.
We are quite sure that the fixed date return will cause huge anxiety among parents, carers, teachers and students and the wider community. If one thing is certain, it is that we do not know what the infection rates are going to be in the future.
The coalition of parents and teachers – Parents and Teachers for Education (PTE) founded by chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, Dame De Souza, hardly inspires confidence since I feel they cannot represent the interests all concerned parents, teachers, students and the wider community. Furthermore it is an organisation formed by the trust itself.
Of course we want to reopen schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them. We also would like to point out that schools never closed. They have been open during lockdown to provide education in a safe environment for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
The pre-conditions for a safe return to schools are: much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases; a proper negotiated plan agreed with unions for social distancing; testing, testing and more testing; whole school strategy and protection for the vulnerable. Have these tests been met? We are far from convinced that they have been. We would respectfully ask the Dame where the evidence is that the Inspiration Trust and the government has met the requirements of these criteria.
We also worry about Health and Safety Officers, who are direct employees of the trust, making these judgements. Are teachers being bullied into returning to work without adequate safeguards being in place? Do they even know what is in place? Have the teaching unions been involved in the discussion?
It is already known that some of the school buildings are barely suitable, being disused industrial units. How is social distancing to be maintained in these circumstances? No doubt there is a huge amount of work to be done before schools can be reopened safely, in terms of the curriculum and the wider community with regards to containment of the virus.
However, Dame Rachel is right about one thing. There is a crisis. It is a crisis of identity and – equally one of survival – for many of our young people lost somewhere in a wilderness between education and social care. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this worse.
Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments stand out and are frightening: “there will be all sorts of problems in terms of social unrest, violence amongst young people that we’ve not seen before”. This suggests that the purpose of our education system is no more than to contain the youth population. I put it to him that many among this population are educating themselves in matters that are of direct concern. This is witnessed by the movements that have focused on the virus, to name one, East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group who have held online meetings, written open letters and supported the Norfolk NEU petition and who are holding weekly protests at Norfolk County Hall regarding the safe reopening of schools.
Without the interventions of an emergency post-14 curriculum with slimmed down knowledge content and an emphasis on skills like communication, problem-solving, co-operation learning and employability rather than Dame Rachel’s notion of “Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’” many will not make it out of the post-COVID-19 wilderness, will have reached the point of no return and will be lost somewhere between education and social care.
“Ofsted has nothing to contribute to this current crisis.” Was the response of NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney to a question from a teacher about what to expect from the government watchdog over the next stages of the educational response to Covid19 in one of the unions many zoom meetings to discuss its approach to the governments mishandling of school reopening. Hardly a revelatory sentiment and one which the majority of the teaching profession will have shared in normal times, but times of crisis like these are remarkable for their ability to bring into sharp focus the things that really matter and those that don’t. The fact that during a time of existential threat to education as we know it the body whose own logo reads as “raising standards, improving lives” can be so accurately described is telling, and the quangos silence over how to educate children in unprecedented circumstances speaks volumes over how little it has to offer on the subject of raising educational standards. It is revealed for what it is and what all teachers have always known it to be a political tool utilised to shape education in a manner appealing to politicians even, and often especially when at odds with the profession itself. It has nothing to offer now on how to actually educate and safeguard children because ofsted inspectors are not in the business of offering such services themselve, if they were they would be where doing so really counts. In the classroom. So now that Covid has established the political narrative of following the science and being led by the experts let us apply that theme to a reconstructed school inspection system based on those principles.
The most significant failures of Ofsted as a body charged with “raising standards and improving lives” through inspecting schools all stem from the inadequate nature of its inspection procedure and the professional nature of its inspectors themselves. The political narrative around Ofsted’s creation and reform has also been far too narrow to provide adequate discussion of such an important issue. In his memoirs Ken Clarke the former education secretary who presided over Ofsted’s creation claimed he introduced it “not to kick teachers” (although it its telling he felt the need to address this perception) but to counter what he perceived as the tendency of education, as well as all other public services in his view, to favour the needs of those who worked in the service over those who, in his words “consumed” the service. The need to counter this “producer bias” was also referred to by Tony Blair in his memoirs in explaining why he continued the public service reforms of the Major governments and why he held the views of trade unions in such low regard feeling they did not represent the people that really mattered, the consumers of services. Even former union leader Alan Johnson recently resorted to the term “producer bias” in an interview explaining why he felt the government was right to push for school reopening against the views of the majority of the teaching profession and its unions. This language is significant as it frames the narrative in a dangerously reductionist fashion in two ways. Firstly by applying the language of the market to public services it begins the transition to applying the logic of the market to their delivery. However as services like education are not commodities they should not be reduced to market speak as students certainly do not consume education from teachers who dispense it in a transactional fashion and I doubt very many parents think of their child’s experience in school in this way. Interestingly in the case of education politicians often mean “parents” rather than students when they speak of consumers in a further debasement of language.
Secondly perhaps most significantly this language casts producers and consumers as being somehow in conflict with each other and in possession of opposing and irreconcilable goals which of course is absurd in the relationship between teacher and student. Both desire the students’ success, in some cases teachers wanting it more than students themselves.
This false dichotomy then is the basis for Ofsted, keeping the producers of education in line in case they attempt to fleece their customers. Absent from this view is any trust in teachers as professionals who have the best interest of their students at heart, in the same way doctors do their patients, lawyers their clients or even politicians their constituents (and I mean that unironically as I am convinced the majority of politicians enter politics to serve others, I just take issue with which others specifically they seek to serve). Aside from Tristram Hunt’s unthought through pitch of a teacher’s oath to rival the Hippocratic oath of doctors from his brief stint as shadow education secretary under Ed Miliband the case of teachers professionalism being the starting point for assembling the superstructure of the UKs education system has been totally absent from the thinking of leading politicians. At the last election despite both the Liberal Democrats and Labour pledging to remove Ofsted the Tories didn’t even engage in the debate that a standards body which long ago lost the confidence of the profession it seeks to safeguard is in an untenable position. So let us now re frame this debate in the realisation that while Ofsted has nothing to offer the world of education as it now is, that world cannot function without the highly skilled and committed professionals who are teachers. So their views must surely be placed at the forefront of determining, assessing and then raising standards in education.
My former head of department used to half jokingly compare ofsted inspectors to the ring wraiths from the Lord of the Rings. Just as the wraiths had once been great kings, corrupted by the temptations of the rings of power, many ofsted inspectors had once been teachers now tempted out of the classroom by the inspectorates’ claim to “raise standards and improve lives”. Only of course to find themselves bringing nothing but misery to their former colleagues. The most insulting feature many teachers will report from ofsted inspections is the unaccountable and out of touch nature of inspectors, many will not have been in the classroom full time for years and given the pace of change in education that can well equate to making their previous experiences irrelevant. So why not make all those who inspect schools currently serving classroom teachers themselves?
Make it part of the professional expectation of the role that at some point in your career you will be called like jury service to undertake a year out of the classroom to travel the country reviewing other schools Ask any teacher what they wish they had more time to do in the cause of CPD and invariably “observe other teachers or schools” will be on the list. As a PGCE & NQT mentor it is something we must make time for trainees to do as part of their initial training but then after that initial NQT year it is something which drops to the bottom of everyone’s priorities despite it being recognised as a great way of improving all involved. Ask School leaders what they spend their time doing to raise standards and it is network with other schools to scout out how others cope with the latest initiative or challenge. So why not adapt the inspection of schools to meet these goals and make it what Ofsted claims to be a supportive body dedicated to raising standards. Well put the teachers in charge of it and let them do just that at a stroke raising their professional autonomy and status as gatekeepers of standards based upon peer review rather than top down dictat. There should be no such thing as permanent inspectors whose sole job is to pass judgment on others doing a job they themselves do not. Rather the DfO can pride schools with the funding required to cover the salaries of serving teachers for the years they are drawn to visit other schools, with the expectation being that at the end of the year those teachers return to their schools and can then present a whole school cpd session informed by what they saw in the other schools they visited. A virtuous circle for all involved. Including on the financial front, gone is a vast bureaucratic quango with armies of permanent inspectors on contract in its place a minimal secretarial staff for administration, and perhaps a small pay rise equivalent to an additional point on the current pay scale for teachers competing for a years service. Or perhaps not even this as teachers would value the enhanced professional autonomy they would receive and the corresponding stress free existence in a post ofsted world they would enjoy far above any financial reward. The true definition of doing more with less, and working smarter rather than working harder.
What of those school visits (I am purposely dropping the term inspections). They are to be what they should always be a learning opportunity for all involved in the spirit of what education is a public service. All schools have something of merit that they can teach to others, depending upon their different circumstances and this lack of appreciation of context is one of the most gaping holes in current ofsted criteria. Serving classroom teachers are the best places to notice and comment appropriately on this difference in context when visiting schools different to their own. The aim of these visits should be to point out what is going well, what can be improved and what could be shared to improve other schools. If “innocent until proven guilty” is good enough to form the basis of the western world’s justice system it should equally apply to education. Unless clear evidence of malpractice, or continued ineffective practise is found schools should be assumed to be effectively meeting the needs of their communities. Teachers can judge what is effective or not in a classroom or school community and it is this language that should be used to replace the debasement of language that are the “outstanding” “good” and “requires improvements” of Ofsted. If we must stick to such labels how about: “effective” “partially effective” “not yet effective”. These terms were suggested by education blogger and author Mike Fleatham (who runs the Thinking classroom website) who led a session on pedagogy for an NUT young teachers conference some years back that I was fortunate to attend. Afterwards I suggested to my head we use this language for our staff appraisals to replace the ofsted language we had been using to that point, and to my great surprise he agreed regarding it as summing up what he wanted to do in changing the culture of appraisals from “observations done to people” to a collaborative process they took ownership of”.
Hashtags. I really hate hashtags. In fact, if I had to throw just one thing into Room 101, it would most definitely be…well, just about anything and everything that has contributed to the implementation of a pernicious, global, neo-liberal agenda over the last forty years or so…but you get the point. One hashtag that should be of paramount concern to those of us on the Left, and to members of the Labour Party in particular, is the #OfficialOpposition hashtag that has been trending on social media recently, applied to such diverse personalities, institutions, and organisations as Piers Morgan, Mark Rashford, the UK Premier League, and Black Lives Matter. Whenever Piers Morgan, of all people, is praised for holding the Government to account through uncompromising journalism and hard-hitting interview techniques, social media is full of comparisons between that unlikely champion of righteousness and the leader of the Official Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer MP.
The humiliation was particularly acute for Labour following Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid’s April 15th interview with Sir Keir on Good Morning Britain. Commenting on a performance which could have had the Labour MP mistaken for a Tory Minister striving to defend Government policy, Facebook and Twitter were ripe with praise for Piers Morgan and condemnation of the new Labour leader’s lacklustre response to Government ineptitude, with one Twitterer observing: “Piers Morgan is interviewing Keir Starmer on GMB this morning, and he’s holding the Government to account better than the opposition leader”. Another highly critical tweet by Huffington Post contributor Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu claimed Starmer’s words were no different from those of the Prime Minister. This insanity appeared to culminate in a topsy-turvy world in which Momentum plastered videos of Comrade Morgan condemning Government plans to reintroduce parking charges for NHS staff all over the Internet.
Such views were similarly reflected in polls questioning the Public’s views on Labour’s performance during the Coronavirus crisis. An Ipsos mori poll of April 2020, for example, found that less than one in five respondents believed that Labour was doing a satisfactory job holding the Government to account during the pandemic, while even among Labour voters (as of December 2019), less than a third thought the Party was serving effectively as the Official Opposition. Conversely, considerably more participants felt that the country’s journalists were effective in challenging Government policy and highlighting it’s mistakes, with an impressive 43% of respondents praising the media involved in covid-19 daily briefings.
Surprisingly, it was only when pressing the Government on the need to release a clear and definitive strategy to end, or at least significantly relax, lockdown restrictions that Sir Keir’s passion and steadfastness became apparent. Indeed, if anything, the new Labour Leadership gave the distinct Impression that it was attacking the Government from the Right of the political spectrum. Author and journalist Patrick Maguire has labelled Starmer’s position on the Government’s jobs retention scheme an attempt to outflank the Tories on the right, while BBC News Editor Laura Kuennsberg accused the Labour Leader of appearing to be a spending hawk. Meanwhile, amidst the deafening clamour of disappointment arising from Labour’s lukewarm response to so many emotive issues of the day, Starmer has at least earned praise from the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Anna Soubry, and Nigel Farage.
Likewise, it was not the Labour Leadership, but Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, who is credited with forcing the Government to reverse it’s decision not to extend free school meals vouchers for children into the summer holidays, again, with all the attendant social media cacophony hailing Rashford as the true opposition to Tory misrule; whereas such a corporate institution as the Premier League itself has more explicitly supported the recently enlivened Black Lives Matter Movement, in both word and deed, than the current Labour front bench. This support has varied from public endorsement of the Movement’s basic principles, through replacing the Players’ names on footballers’ shirts with “Black Lives Matter” for several matches, to the creation of a new BLM badge to be included in all Premier League kits for the remainder of the season.
Keir Starmer, in contrast, has faced considerable criticism for describing BLM as a moment, rather than a movement. When the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the river Avon in Bristol last month, Starmer, in an interview with LBC Radio, claimed that the action was “completely wrong”. While not condoning the presence of statues commemorating the accomplishments of slave traders in a modern British city, the Labour Leader insisted that removing such symbols must be achieved through ‘proper’ channels, and with ‘consent’. Starmer likewise labelled BLM calls to defund Police authorities that failed to address institutional racism as pure “nonsense”. In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he criticised BLM attacks on policing, and insisted that his support for the police was very strong. The BLM’s somewhat predictable response came from its official UK Twitter account which branded Starmer, who had previously headed the UK Crown Prosecution Service, a “cop in an expensive suit”. Various Union officials and Labour MPS also lambasted Starmer’s statements, with recently elected MP Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy remarking, in a tweet of June 29th, that in the absence of clear support from Parliament, real change was “going to take sustained pressure from below.” At its peak, this “pressure” manifested in 260 UK towns and cities, with considerably more than 200 thousand protestors defying lockdown restrictions throughout June and early July, according to a recent Guardian Exclusive, which described this so-called ‘moment’ as the “largest anti-racist protest seen in the UK since the slave abolition movement” of more than two centuries ago.
Of course, it is never easy for any senior political figure to publicly endorse activity of, at best, questionable legality, and those who combine a role in ‘respectable’ representative politics with street-level activism are certainly few and far between, but it is not difficult to imagine a very different response from the Official Opposition had this occurred on Jeremy Corbyn‘s watch. Indeed, the former Opposition leader himself spoke at a local BLM demonstration in Islington on July 1st, amongst other occasions.
The Corbyn era gave us a glimpse of how Labour as a Party, can be a home for Labour as movements; a chance to analyse the interaction between a reformist parliamentary institution and an amalgamation of various protest movements and causes. Now, nobody would expect Starmer to leap on the stage at Glastonbury, to rapturous applause, or to be greeted with a spontaneous chorus of “ohhhh Sir Keir Starmer”; nor, more importantly, would he feel remotely comfortable with any such acclamation.
My recent article, amongst other things, traced the connection between the eruption of student protests against tuition fees in 2010 with the emergence of Corbynism as a political force 5 years later. It outlined the argument that the seeds of organisations like Momentum were to be found in such anti-austerity street demos, and in the founding of activist groups like the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Comparisons were made between the response of the contemporary Official Opposition and then-fringe figures such as Corbyn or Diane Abbott. While the likes of Corbyn and McDonnell endorsed the protests, attacked police brutality, and even participated directly, then-Labour leader Ed Miliband refused to attend demonstrations, and publicly opposed a teachers strike in 2011, while Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls frequently criticised the protestors, their aims, and most especially, their methods.
If Keir Starmer’s attitudes and actions are not a million miles away from those of Ed Balls in 2010, or Ed Miliband in 2011, it hardly takes a great stretch of the imagination to envisage that a void similar to the one which facilitated the radicalisation of Labour Party politics from 2015 could open the door to history repeating itself in the not so distant future. But to who, then, can we look to harness the potential energy of these emerging protest movements? Just as the attitude of senior Labour officials has apparently resulted in an exodus of BAME members from the Party, Including such notable figures as Journalist Evie Muir, leading the Labour Leader to publicly call for BAME people to remain, and telling the Huffington Post: “I don’t want anybody to leave the Labour Party…It is a place that I hope and am determined that Black people feel that they are welcome…”, a younger generation of Labour MPs are simultaneously being praised for their commitment to the struggle. The so called ‘Baby of the House’, Nadia Whittome MP, has received particular acclamation for calling the tearing down of the Colston statue “an act of resistance to be celebrated”. She could almost certainly have been speaking for like-minded comrades such as Zarah Sultana MP, who, during the early days of BLM protests in the UK, posted advice for demonstrators on Twitter regarding their rights and how to deal with the Police, whilst personally attending and speaking at a BLM gathering in Coventry city centre a fortnight later. Meanwhile, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is still committed to “rebuilding resistance to the Tories”, in the words of former Labour MP Laura Pidcock, who, during the opening months of 2020, took an increasingly active role in directing the movement in its efforts to renew local campaigns against government cuts.
Yet this disillusionment of grassroots protestors at the changing direction of the Labour Party is only half the story. While the energy and activism of the Corbyn era is still very much alive on the street and in social media chat rooms, this radicalism is no longer the ‘new normal’ of Left Wing political discourse in the UK, and, following early Shadow Cabinet reshuffles and the appointment of David Evans as the Party’s General Secretary in May, and despite the lingering traces of radicalism in Sir Keir’s ’10 Policy Pledges’, Labour looks certain to return definitively to the centre ground. It was no doubt in reference to these pledges that the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, in heaping praise on the new regime for making Labour ‘politically competitive’ again, added that: “there are a whole set of questions around policy and so on that in time I’m sure and know he will come to”.
This attitude is far from being an isolated one in Labour circles, with many Party members and Labour voters alike jubilant that the Party is slowly making its way back to ‘electability’. Words like ‘competent’ and ‘confident’ are most often bandied around whilst discussing the Labour leader, often accompanied by praise of how forensic he is in his questioning of government policy. This so called ‘professionalism’ is often contrasted starkly with the anti-establishment tendencies of Jeremy Corbyn, and, perhaps not quite incidentally, the BLM movement.
When listening to the announcements coming from the current Labour Front Bench, one will almost certainly come across more talk of “fostering aspiration” and “helping people who want to get on” than was the case only a few months previous. And this kind of talk will attract support both from within the Party, and the wider population. Those who scorn the new Labour Leadership for coming across more like apologists for the Government rather than its opposition during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, or for criticising or letting down the thousands of BLM protestors flooding Britain’s streets are, at least on occasion, countered by those expressing relief that they no longer need to feel ashamed of supporting Labour. As one previous, and allegedly future, Labour voter, Louise Hantman from Northumberland, put it, during one of Sir Keir Starmer’s weekly online consultations with the Public: “We feel quite excited that you’re there now. There’s a light on the horizon.”
But one should remember that sometimes, just sometimes, the light, whether on the horizon or at the end of a tunnel, happens to be an oncoming train, a train quite possibly filled with protestors heading to a BLM demo…
An exclusive article for SATU-East by Socialist Historian, Ian Laws
July Feature Story
I remember reading an article back in 2015. It was in the Guardian. A small beacon of hope, it seemed, for people, like me, on the left of the political spectrum; it described the emergence, out of a vibrant, some might say desperate, anti-austerity movement, of a radical new Left-wing politics. One arising within, of all places, the reformist compromise that is representative democracy.
It wasn’t an article about British politics. Of course not, any half-way sane observer of the time would have added. No, it was an article, written in March, which charted the rising fortunes of Podemos, a radical movement in Spain that had coalesced over the past few years, from its beginnings as a vague social movement, a largely intellectual response to crippling austerity measures back in 2011, into a populist Left-wing parliamentary party that not only threatened the political dominance of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), headed by Pedro Sanchez, but might very well replace it as Spain’s meaningful Left-wing alternative, making the mainstream Spanish social democratic party obsolete.
It could just as easily have been an article about Syriza, which in a few short years had managed to marginalise PASOK, the main Greek Social democratic party, and one of the two realistic contenders for political power in Greece since the 1970s. While Syriza’s 4.6% share of the popular vote in the national elections of 2009 hardly seemed to inconvenience it’s larger rival on the Left, with PASOK achieving a commanding 43.9% of all votes cast, by January 2015 the situation was reversed. While Syriza, campaigning on an avowedly anti-austerity ticket, won 36.3% of the vote, allowing it’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, to form a coalition government, PASOK barely managed to maintain any relevance at all, clinging on with just 4.7%.
Although the article was not about British politics, within just a few short months, incredibly, it could have been. Just as Podemos arose out of the energetic 15-M movement, the radical shift in British politics was likewise birthed by the anti-austerity protests of the past few years. Whereas Podemos grew on the back of direct action by such groups as the Platform for those Affected by Mortgages (PAH), author Matt Myers, in his 2017 work: “Student Revolt: Voices of the Austerity Generation”, traces a direct link between the students who took to the streets in 2010 to protest cuts to grants and the drastic increase in university tuition fees, and the radicalisation of the Labour Party during the second half of that decade. As a Financial Times article of September 2019 put it, the public protests launched by organisations such as the People’s Assembly Against Austerity planted fertile seeds for the rise of Corbynism.
Indeed, it was at an anti-austerity rally in Norwich in the summer of 2015 that I heard the newly minted Labour Member of Parliament for Norwich South, the Honourable Clive Lewis, outline the conditions he would attach to his nomination of, and support for, the Labour MPS who had announced their candidacy for the vacant Leadership following Ed Miliband’s recent electoral defeat: “I would not consider nominating any candidate who refused to fight on an anti-austerity platform; If they want my support, they need to demonstrate their opposition to this pernicious agenda”. Or words to that effect. No wonder, then, that he went on to nominate the most unlikely Socialist Campaign Group candidate, Jeremy Corbyn; the rank outsider who scraped through the Parliamentary nomination process with the help of those like Margaret Beckett, who thought his inclusion would help widen the debate and stimulate a more meaningful discussion, without having any chance of coming within shouting distance of the ultimate prize. The rank outsider who happened to be the only candidate to have defied the Party whip to vote against the 2015 Austerity Bill. The rank outsider who went on to win convincingly, with an overall majority in the first round of voting.
On the face of it, neither the Labour Party, nor Jeremy Corbyn himself, were likely contenders to spearhead a populist insurgency on the British Left. For most of the previous two decades, it had, after all, been a Labour Government bedevilled by Left-wing demonstrations and protest movements; while Corbyn, a largely unknown backbencher of 32 years standing, was hardly the image of a Marxist firebrand, and had been an MP for almost as long as Tsipras or Iglesias had been alive when they came to lead their respective movements. What made Corbyn different to the long list of Labour luminaries in 2015 was his decades of involvement in direct action, in supporting causes, alongside his representative role. Whether it was his recent role as Chair of the Stop the War Coalition, or his arrest in 1984, a year after becoming an MP, for participating in anti-Apartheid protests outside Africa House, anybody, fan or critic alike, would be hard pressed to label Jeremy Corbyn an Establishment figure. While the then Shadow Home Secretary, Ed Balls, lambasted the unruly nature of the 2010 student demonstrations, and basically reinforced Prime Minister David Cameron’s narrative of the protestors as a feral mob, Corbyn spent his time taking the Metropolitan police to task for their kettling tactics.
The People’s Assembly was, after all, formed largely to fill the void left by Labour; a Party which had utterly failed, according to many Union activists that joined this coalition of resistance in 2013, to provide leadership of the increasing opposition to austerity and related Government policies. Just as Syriza and Podemos filled the vacuum left by the decline in popularity of reformist social democratic parties that appeared to have given up on reform, the “Corbyn project” did likewise, but instead of trying to replace the UK’s main social democratic party, they simply, or not so simply, took it over.
Like Podemos, Labour, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, began to serve as an umbrella for a variety of wider protest movements. A 2015 article by the journal Peace News urged it’s audience of pacifist activists to mobilise and join Labour to support the new leader, while an April 2016 survey found that Corbyn was more popular with 2015 Green Party voters than he was with 2015 Labour voters, and around 60% of those voters ultimately abandoned the Greens for Labour two years later. In October 2016, Corbyn attended the founding conference of the Stand Up To Racism movement, while in 2018, Shadow Home Secretary Diana Abbott, the current SUTR President, took an active part in its protests against the Windrush deportations. Corbyn’s assumption of the Labour Leadership opened the Party’s door to pacifists, environmentalists, activists for racial equality, and other direct action movements. It also unleashed activists passionate about protecting the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, along with ensuing allegations of anti-Semitism which would cause so much dissention within the movement, and particularly within the Parliamentary Party, even playing a role in the defection of several of the Labour MPs who went on to form Change UK.
But that, of course, was precisely the problem. Unlike the radical experiments sweeping the left of the political spectrum throughout Europe, the Corbyn project was grafted on to a pre-existing, traditional, mainstream political institution. Corbynism certainly shared many of the strengths of entities like Podemos and Syriza: A massive upsurge of grassroots support, which manifested both in a dramatic increase in Labour Party membership from under 200,000 in May 2015 to over 550,000 as of January 2018, and in the creation of an entirely new movement, Momentum, to support the Leadership and promote radical initiatives from below. And just like Podemos and Syriza, Corbyn’s Labour galvanised the country’s youth behind its “new” idealism. In contemporary Spanish elections, the younger the median age in any given district, the greater the share of the vote Podemos received. In 2017, Labour likewise benefitted from an estimated 16% increase in turnout of 18-24 year old voters, and it would be hard to forget Jeremy Corbyn’s rapturous reception at Glastonbury, or the chants of “ohhhh Jeremy Corbyn”.
It could be argued that there was no direct Labour equivalent of Podemos’ Socialist Circles, which became embedded in local communities, championed local causes and established social and cultural centres like “La Morada” in working class districts of major Spanish cities. These organisations spent far more time fighting landlords who evicted their tenants or protesting the “touristification” of working-class class areas than the more traditional methods of electoral campaigning.
But in 2018 Labour did establish a Community Organising Unit to embed Party politics in local communities and encourage activists to campaign on local issues. In the latter half of 2019, for example, the COU assisted the residents of Walden house to organise their resistance to the Duke of Westminster‘s gentrification plans which would leave them homeless, while in Yorkshire, they helped organise a large scale campaign to save local bus services.
Likewise, while Podemos experimented with various participatory elements in formulating its early electoral programmes, such as utilising technology to contribute to the collective development of online policy initiatives, Momentum also provided a fertile source for grassroots policy initiatives, based on the belief that truly transformational Labour policies could not be derived from Westminster alone, but had to draw on the thoughts and experiences of the wider Party membership. In the run up to the 2019 General Election, Momentum pushed for a more radical climate change agenda: a Green New Deal, as well as proposals for a four day working week. Throughout the Corbyn era, Labour became a hot bed of ideas for potential new forms of public ownership, from municipal socialism, and ‘shares for workers’ schemes, to joint public-private ownership of offshore wind farms, eventually incorporated in Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution as the ‘People’s Power Plan’.
Yet the strength of this politics lay precisely in its grassroots base, rather than within the Parliamentary Party. The Corbyn ‘Insurgency’ may have found itself with an enviable established base, a ready-made Parliamentary Party of more than 230 Labour MPs, but only a small fraction of these enthusiastically embraced this new radicalism. Nothing better illustrates this division between the PLP and the more radical, membership-endorsed leadership than the June 18th, 2016 vote over the renewal of Britain’s nuclear submarine programme. The Labour Leader felt compelled to give his MPS a free vote on this issue, and 140 Labour MPs subsequently voted with the Government on Trident’s renewal.
The constant sniping and opposition against Corbyn culminated in the events of just over a week later, the so called “Chicken Coup”, in which 21 members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned following the sacking of shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn for plotting against the Labour Leadership. This number did not include the elected Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, who publicly called for Corbyn’s resignation, or the two representatives of the House of Lords, who, being elected by Labour Peers, could not resign, but refused to attend Shadow Cabinet meetings while Corbyn remained leader. Thus out of a Shadow Cabinet of 31, 25 members of the Official Opposition were publicly opposed to the Leader of the Opposition. This was followed by a Parliamentary Party vote of No Confidence, which Corbyn lost by a margin of 172-40. A vote that was, of course, invalidated by a membership who endorsed the embattled leader by a clear majority of nearly 62%.
This did not put a stop to internal dissension within Labour. Indeed, watching the footage of Election night 2017 as results began to come in, results that were considerably more favourable to Labour than the polls had predicted, it was difficult not to notice the sense of astonished disappointment from within the ranks of the Parliamentary Party. Then there was the chorus of condemnation of the Leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations, or the defection of 12 Labour MPs in 2019, 8 of which joined the new, but short-lived centrist vehicle, Change UK.
That is not to say the new radical European Parties faced no comparable difficulties. While Podemos did not have to fight to overcome any traditional conservatism in their own organisation, there were early, and ever increasing, signs that the new Party was becoming institutionalised long before it entered into coalition government with the PSOE; a coalition which is committed to implementing further austerity measures and anti-Labour legislation. In the words of El Confidencial journalist Estefania Molina, Podemos is “now part of the system”, a fate which had long since befallen it’s Greek counterpart, Syriza.
Both Podemos and Syriza also received scathing criticism from their opponents on the mainstream social-democratic Left. But their typical response, that such denunciations came from irrelevant has-beens, part of an outdated, thoroughly discredited establishment, are not so easily applied to members of your own erstwhile vehicle for change.
Podemos likewise faced internal dissension, most notably the defection of Iglesias’s former key ally, Iñigo Errejón in January 2019, which undoubtedly weakened the Leftist movement, and a poor electoral performance could always lead to a challenge from within. The difference being, of course, that defeat might lead to a leadership contest within Podemos, but with Labour’s broad church, any such election could very likely spell the demise of this new radical politics. But that is another story.
Of course this all leads to the question of why the new British radicalism was so markedly different from its European counterparts. Why was no new party of the radical, populist left created in the UK? A number of alternative suggestions present themselves.
A case might be made, by some, for the strength of the Labour brand. Talk of tribalism and Party Loyalty in British politics is certainly nothing new, but, regardless of how accurate it may have been as a description of traditional voting patterns, by 2015, any strong sense of tribal identity amongst Left-wing voters was most assuredly a thing of the past. Leaving aside changing economic relations, the decline of British manufacturing, and the weakening of organised labour over the last several decades, the re-branding of “New Labour” from the 1990s led to desertion, first, of Party members, and later, and more gradually, of swathes of traditional Labour voters. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find anyone of that era, whether political scientist or ordinary voter, who would not put both the Greens and the Lib Dems much further to the left of Labour on any ‘political compass’. The idea of Labour as the home of the British Left belonged most definitely in the past.
Indeed, the election of outsider Jeremy Corbyn would itself attest to the ever-increasing weakness of such a brand; a man who had defied the Party Whip more times than any other MP in every Parliament from 1997 onward, a staggering 428 separate occasions, in total.
There is certainly an argument to be made that the UK has a basically conservative political culture, one not at all conducive to the formation of a radical party from scratch. The Greek Communist Party held 15 of the Hellenic Parliament’s 300 seats in 2019, a result not dissimilar from its performance throughout the past few decades. Likewise, an alliance of far left Spanish Parties, dominated by Communists at the national level, won 4 % of the popular vote, and two of the 350 seats, in the 2015 Congress of Deputies elections. I don’t think we need to dwell on the practically non-existent support for the British equivalent throughput it’s frankly inconsequential history.
But perhaps the most convincing explanation lies in any cursory examination of the voting system employed in UK elections to the House of Commons, that of First Past the Post (FPTP). The political systems of both Greece and Spain, like those throughout most of Europe, are based on some form of proportional representation, allowing for relatively minor parties to win seats roughly commensurate with their national share of the public vote. With the First Past the Post system used in the UK, a new radical party joining an already crowded field would find it all but impossible to gain any kind of foothold whatsoever. Indeed, it is a great surprise to many that the Liberal Democrats are able to maintain any relevance in what is, structurally, a two horse race. With such a system in place, any remotely viable radicalisation of Left wing politics in the UK would have to arise from within the Labour Party, or, for a time, and to a much lesser extent, in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, within the Liberal Democrats.
Syriza. Podemos. Labour. Nobody, reviewing the long and convoluted history of the British Labour Party since its inception well over a century ago, would ever have thought to associate the party of Blair, of Miliband, even of Wilson, with that list of radical, populist, anti-austerity movements which threatened the very existence of their countries’ established, and thoroughly institutionalised, social democratic parties. Indeed, Labour would appear to belong squarely in the same camp as those mainstream entities, namely PASOK and PSOE. Or it did, and does again. But for a few short years, between 2015 and 2020, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, it could be argued that Labour had far more in common with those insurgent, and (relatively) uncompromising organiastions of the radical Left. And given the likely resurgence of Government austerity measures post covid-19, and the current explosion of BLM protests sweeping the nation, not to mention the distinctly lukewarm response to these from the new Labour Leadership, who is to say that it won’t again? But that, also, is another story.
(First published in the SEA journal, Education Politics , June 2020.)
In recent times I have been the designated safeguarding lead in three educational settings, including an alternative provision attended (or more often not) by some extremely vulnerable young people. In the present pandemic I have been working in the guise of educator.
Nothing I have experienced in these roles has challenged my view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist on the cusp of education and social care.
At the heart of this argument is of course the ground breaking legislation by Labour in 2003 and pockets of local initiatives that pre-dated and influenced in and which gave birth to the barely still breathing Sure Start project.
Every Child Matters (ECM) , the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, at least partly in response to the death of Victoria Climbié, is one of the most important policy initiatives ever introduced and development in relation to children and children’s services ever. It led in the short to medium term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families agenda, leading to the Children Act 2004. ECM covers children and young adults up to the age of 19, or 24 for those with disabilities and it is important (especially perhaps in the time of Coronavirus) to remember its keynotes:
enjoy and achieve
make a positive contribution
achieve economic well-being
As well as my own harrowing experiences and observations that ranging from victims of abuse and violence to hunger and neglect, the SEA seminar, entitled, Vulnerable Children and the Lock Down, on 16 April provided some valuable input. One issue has been the provision of free school meal vouchers. In usual fake tory so called “value for money” solutions, it has been out sourced to a company with inadequate IT to deal with the demand. There are families who are starving because of it. One of the children I have been dealing with in Norwich only engages at all so that he can get a daily Aldi meal deal voucher. There are similar stories in a number of London boroughs.
The BBC’s Newsnight Special Coronavirus: How Britain’s invisible children are being forgotten, broadcast on 9 April (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0892xt2) also provided great insight into the social, economic and health crises. The low numbers of at risk children taking their crisis place in a school is frighteningly low and the most economically disadvantaged are without the free school meals service, in some areas as low as 10%.
Newington Green School in Islington was featured. It is in an area, though often seen as leafy and well to do houses and schools some of the most deprived children in the UK. The N1 postcode is on all kinds of cusps.
Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection told BBC Newsnight: “A worryingly low number of vulnerable children allocated a school place in England to keep them safe during the coronavirus crisis are actually turning up”. In some areas just a quarter of the “at risk” children who are meant to be in school are attending, the programme has been told. Norfolk is the only local authority to have reported an official figure. It is 13%. In some areas the figure is below 10%.A head teacher said that she believes those officially deemed “at risk” were “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Children who would probably be taken into care under normal circumstances, where a more specialised provision would be available are having to be dealt with in a wholly inadequate mainstream provision. Teachers and social workers are on the front line and having to have contact with children and their parents at their own risk.
The remedy for this, of course, as it was in 2003 and always has been: to achieve economic well-being for all of our young people.
This can only be done by preparing learners for employment and economic, independent living through training providers’, proper apprenticeships and work.
The following characteristics would provide the evidence for young learners achieving economic well-being:
■ examples of the development of learners’
■ learners’ involvement and achievement in
■ learners developing employability skills;
■ learners engaging in team building and
■ learners access to, and take-up of, careers
education, advice and guidance;
■ personal finance education
■ work experience;
■ work-based learning.
Information, advice and guidance must be evidenced by:
■ careers advice and guidance;
■ a schedule of one-to-one interviews.
The real fear is that the inequalities inherent in a social class rigged education system will be exacerbated by the pandemic school closure in a Michael Gove inspired wet dream with a well- resourced affluent middle-class keeping up with and getting ahead of the school curriculum and an army of disadvantaged youngster with no resource and no encouragement. A work-related curriculum needs to be rooted in a meaningful skills-based curriculum with transferable skills as its spine and entitlement at its heart and engagement, life-skills, literacy in its blood.
Ian Duckett- Education correspondent for SATU – East
The curriculum has, for me, always been concerned with three interwoven strands: the development of skills, knowledge and general education/enrichment with entitlement as its strong backbone.
When I use the term skills I am referring to the various incarnations of government sponsored generic skills initiatives from common skills to core skills to skills, the dabbling in essential skills and, most recently functional skills as they relate to mostly a narrow vocational curriculum but at a times a broader and more meaningful wider curriculum that has attended to cross the academic/vocational divide and generate a genuine learning curriculum.
While skills like problem-solving, teamwork, study skills communication have a crucial role to play in post-16 education I agree with the argument that the notion of either a knowledge-free curriculum or of a content free pedagogy is a manifest absurdity. As the basic skills only model of skills development still seems to be winning again over a fuller, more developmental version of skills comprising improving own learning, working with others and problem -solving, the need for a core module on ‘learning to learn’ is as important as ever.
These wider, survival skills that can be seen as street-wisdom or working class seem to be undervalued and undermined by those whose diktat it is to decide on what the curriculum is and is for.
Clearly skills, be they termed common, core, key, functional or anything else need to relate to either generic learning skills or the specific learning skills relating to a subject and have a major role to play, especially, one might argue, with students from less traditional backgrounds.
The economic imperative has raised broader educational and social questions. It is not just vocational training that people should receive. They have a right to be educated more broadly. Once again that might be seen purely in economic terms. How else can people experience fulfilment as human beings?
As a young teacher reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire as a crusade for humanity it made me see dehumanization both as an historical reality and as an individual experience in the lives of many of the learners I worked with. This informed my teaching for many years. As time passed I saw the matter in greyer terms, but remain wedded to the view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist at the cusp of education and social care.
As a consequence of this I became more and more interested in the importance of learning things that can make a difference and have continued to be drawn to the idea of pursuing interests where possible and using the situation you find yourself in as your university if you are not in that fortunate position.
These questions are as vital live now as it was then and successive governments have failed to address the skills gap.
Similarly those based genuine assessment for learning that have not just been state-sponsored assessment objectives aimed at perpetuating a system that required the many to fail so that the few can succeed in the system have fostered a genuine progressive curriculum. Curriculum development and delivery and assessment methodology alike need to be matched with both the appropriate skills, and attitudes and the syllabus aims and objectives which are: see meanings beneath the surface of, say a text; understand the nature and interplay of its constituent parts; show appreciation of what impacts on it; make a well-considered personal and critical response.
Armed with the results of a ‘skill audit’ practitioners are able to produce an introductory skills based modules including an identification of skills and attitudes, the aims of a specification and demystify he hidden curriculum . A teacher can, where these conditions exist, work collaboratively with learners on something that enhances the student learning experience, impacts on teaching and learning styles and develops the curriculum in its broadest sense. Ever since I can remember there have been problems about the assessment of generic skills and general education aspects of vocational education, be it liberal education; general studies; communication skills; general and communication studies; social and life skills; people and communication and, more recently functional skills
If then, there is nothing new about the problematic nature of assessing these transferable skills, supposedly a pre-requisite for a competitive UK industrial and service workforce, why the commotion on the pages of the education press and beyond? Perhaps it is because now, these ‘core’; ‘key’; ‘transferable’ or ‘generic’ skills are, for the first time, making an impact on traditional academia as well as vocational further education.
So, what next?
Learner engagement should determine a curriculum that is meaningful and personalised and one which will foster the development of personal, learning, thinking and employability skills in a safe environment for all 14+ learners.
This curriculum outline is based on an entitlement model and is, at the same time, developmental and aspirational. With English and Maths at its heart and with engagement, enterprise and employability as its chief objectives, the curriculum will emphasise personal and social development and provide vocational tasters. Learning is supported by regular 1:1 coaching sessions and target-setting reviews; Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) and citizenship and a wide-range of enrichment activities aimed at enhancing overall learning experience.
Many will dismiss these proposals as utopian, in dismissal of the professionalism of teachers which is understandable given Britain makes no effort to present teachers as expert professionals. What the current crisis proves however is teachers are key workers. You can take away the exams and associated bureaucracy as has been done and teachers still innovate in delivering learning opportunities for students who will still progress to the next stage of their lives. Take the teachers out of this the exam boards cannot do fill their roles. Is it really utopian to suggest teachers be free to exercise the full professional agency their status deserves? After all teachers working conditions are children’s learning conditions and if this crisis can create a better understanding of how to enhance these then it will not have been wasted. At the end of it all, after post-coronavirus, re-imagining education and seizing a new initiative, as well as protecting these gains, should be a rallying call for radical educators.
To be frank, Rt. Honourable Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, illustrates the whole hypocrisy of the Johnson government. She patronises her constituents by saying how proud she is of them but then she is supporting the Immigration Bill which, in effect, classifies those ‘heroes’ as ‘unskilled’ and that those hard-working immigrants who provide 20% of care staff have no right to reside in this country.
Then there is the Conservative Party’s and its propaganda machine’s (The Daily Mail, Daily Express et cetera) demonising of our children’s teachers and their Unions because they question the decision to open schools gradually. Even Michael Gove cannot guarantee that it will be safe for teachers and children to return to school.
The Conservative Party and your media also has completely misrepresented what teachers are really doing to maintain education during lockdown. What is of major concern is that the government has no idea of what goes on in schools or probably ignores this and is failing to protect children, parents, and teachers by not providing any extra resources in the way of protection. Elizabeth would probably reply that this is the responsibility of the local councils or educational trusts, but they have had their budgets cut over the past 10 years. The government’s concern for the less well off families is hypocritical because in the first place most poverty has been caused by the policy of austerity for the most vulnerable, and secondly, if such concern were genuine they would fund computers and internet access for poor children. What I understand by these attacks on teachers is the beginning of an attempt to undermine the role of Unions in the workplace.
As for your staged plan to reduce lockdown, it is clear that the Johnson government has learned very little from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries. The best one can call it is ‘dithering’ and the worst ‘herd immunity’. Instead of ‘test, track, trace’ there was an amazing Trump-like indifference as shown by Johnson failing to attend four Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) meetings. The testing is failing to meet its targets daily. The failure to respond to the crisis in residential and nursing homes beggars belief.
The consequences of all this, are that:
the UK has the highest death rate in Europe
thousands are losing jobs and many more thousands are living on subsistence levels
many industries big and small are collapsing
councils are losing commercial funds hand over fist
consequently services are likely to be cut.
The constant broadcasts about Covid-19 are annoying because most of the time it is pure and simply brain-washing, trying to persuade people that Johnson has a grasp on the situation (that fake news would be funny were it not proving to be fatal). It is a ‘drip drip’ of questionable information with little challenging by truthful experts. Certainly, the Tories are using the tactics of Hitler’s Nazis: constant propaganda, after their campaign against Democratic Socialism in the anti-Semitic slurs, and now attacks on Unions. What next? The burning of Das Capital and other books they don’t like the cover of? I use my, up to now, right to turn them off. Am I being caustic? But they let the cat out of the bag with their ‘herd immunity’. It illustrates what Hitler thought: the need to purge the population to purify it. To confound matters, there are reports that to pay for the Johnson government’s incompetence or wilful inaction (Herd immunity theory), taxes for the many are to be raised while taxes for the rich are to be lowered.
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love. Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbours across the globe, and future generations.
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide.
The Covid19 pandemic cannot be treated as a trivial matter, despite Prime Minister Johnson’s indifference to it at the beginning: some of his early brush-offs have proven fatal for tens of thousands of people and a danger to the health of hundreds of thousands who became ill with the virus and put millions into isolation. Hopefully an independent inquiry will investigate the government’s handling of the response to the pandemic.
Rt. Honourable Elizabeth Truss, President of the Board of Trade, is setting up trade deals with the Trump administration. These will include bartering the NHS, of which you say you are so proud and undermining our farming industry, for deals that include products from the USA that would be banned in the UK and the EU. The Trade Bill sets out to introduce trading unfettered by our government’s intervention whatever the colour of the government. We already know that our farmers will be ruined through international dumping of food that currently does not meet our standards of production produced by practices that are banned in the UK and the EU. This will apply to all UK industries. As for the NHS and our welfare system, both will become market places with the emphasis on profits not caring. Sir Captain Moore has raised £33million and in the future most of that will end up in the pockets of directors who ‘help’ to administer these types of funds. I admire Sir Tom for what he has done but in a sense he is an indication of how the funding of our health and welfare is heading: to charities, lotteries and directors pocket, and eventually to global insurance. Should a private company lose out in a tendering process, they will get their smart suited lawyers to demand compensation. Virgincare did this and got £300k+ from the taxpayer because they did not succeed in getting a contract.
Forget about the sovereignty of the UK. By promoting ‘free trade’ it is ‘no holds barred’. Parliament will lose its ability to protect us citizens from unsafe practices, poor production values, dangerous goods with no right to reply. You get a dodgy T.V., too bad. The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The History of Economics 1991, ch. 21: ‘The great dialectic of our time is not…between capital and labour; it is between economic enterprise and the State. It looks as though Ms. Truss is in the vanguard for economic enterprise. Underneath it all, our ‘Heroes’ are being left stranded. ’ We have given up the protection of the EU, to a situation in which anything goes. UK sovereignty is now a thing of the past.
One of the blessings of living in this country is that we have one of the best farming communities. I have watched on various programmes on TV how our farmers valiantly try to produce food, acknowledging the need to be ecologically progressive as well as maintaining high standards of meat and vegetable production.
But not just maintaining but also pushing up the standards through well-grounded research.
It is our fortune to be recipients of this ever-improving industry.
This is against a background of global retailers like Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, and so on forcing down their costs so that farmers have to subsidise promotions by these supermarkets.
However, this is not the end of their trials. Unfortunately, for centuries the UK has had to import a lot of its food, but now, because of the need to offset the damage that will be done by Brexit, this government will have to make trade agreements as a junior, begging partner, with countries that will swamp our markets with food of an inferior standard: beef full of antibiotics and other chemicals, chicken washed with chlorine, vegetables grown in fertilisers banned by the EU and the UK.
Now, there is the leaked government report that forecasts that the UK economy will be badly damaged Post-Brexit which the Brexiteers are trying to dismiss but tried to keep it secret and want to pursue it until they have fixed it to their liking.
Yet, we have people like Edward Wheatley, the resident Kipper, who, living in a Ukip fantasy land Walt Disney would have be proud to draw, says that the UK economy is growing and that unemployment is at a low level and that everything is Brexit hunky-dory.
What he doesn’t say is that the growth in the UK economy is the slowest possible and this against a background of global economic buoyancy.
Countries that once were deemed economically backward have better growth than the UK and it is not Brexit time just yet! Just one industry, car manufacturing, in the UK is 3pc down.
As for unemployment figures, they are of people who are registered unemployed.
However, employment figures do not account for the increase in homelessness, up triplicate in East Anglia, increasing poverty and de-valuing of wages and pensions, private companies exploiting public services, and leaving large debts for the public purse to pick up while shareholders and executives avoid paying taxes.
If the economy is doing so well, how come the NHS and social welfare services, the police, fire and ambulance services, the prison, probationary, and border services are in crisis?
Meanwhile Tory politicians can increase their expenses well beyond the rate of inflation? Come on. Ted, prick your Ukip bubble, stop blaming everything on immigrants, and face the neo-liberal reality forced on UK citizens.
As for the future, I believe that the (Labour) Party and the Local Party should take a radical approach that needs to be worked out according to local conditions. It is not a matter of obtaining power but of fighting to improve the lives of Norfolk people. What we need to do is try to understand how those being canvassed perceive it.
We tell the issues and we tell them the solutions!
What if before canvassing we asked them what concerns them. Some of the answers will not be palatable, but along with acceptable answers, local parties can respond in a way relevant to local issues. This was used in Chipping Barnet and the Party won Thatcher’s local authority, her seat, and two other seats in London Borough of Barnet.
Ian Duckett is Secretary of the Norfolk and Suffolk Branch of the Socialist Educational Association and Post-16 Officer for Norfolk NEU.
Chris Smith is Youth Officer for Norfolk NEU and a member of the Labour Party and SEA.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the necessity for government to work with and be led by experts. Trade Unions should embrace this as a chance to present themselves as when at their best they truly are: the experts in their field. Nowhere is this truer than in education where teachers, including supply teachers, and their unions should advance the professional status of their members as their biggest asset.
Any student of politics will appreciate the dictum “never let a good crisis go to waste” so let us follow that advice in imagining how education post COVID19 can be improved. Neither would any progressive educator miss the opportunity to develop the curriculum and assessment strategies in a way fitter for the modern world. Teachers like health care professionals, although not to the same terrible extent, have suffered the neglect of a lost decade of austerity and now must grasp the current crisis’ upending of accepted wisdom to enhance their professional agency whilst there is understanding of the value of experts. I am referring to exams here, alongside even the Daily Telegraph who on April 21st ran a piece asking if the temporary cancellation should be made permanent . Finally acknowledging an argument education professionals have been advancing for years that teachers professional judgments should be recognised as of more value than a snap shot of student performance. Transforming education and re-imagining it should be a priority for progressive educators post-pandemic.
Education after lockdown
The earliest revelation for many of the current crisis was that of who the real key workers of society are. Teachers are on this list, not in the same way as health workers for sound and obvious reason and this holds within it another revelation about the place and status of the teaching profession. Teaching has often been referred to as a “Cinderella profession” where politicians will regularly refer to teachers as professionals akin to doctors in times of demanding something from them but then when it comes to the practicality of pay, conditions and professional autonomy happy to dismiss the views of these same public servants. With disastrous consequences for both teachers and students. Many outside the profession will be familiar with how unattractive it has become through headlines of the numbers who have left it due to disgust with Govian reforms, unlimited workload and accompanying stress. This all underpins the most demoralising issue: the lack of professional status. As a teachers ourselves now of too many to count and eight years respectively, we have survived the first milestone of five years service after which a reported 30 – 40% quit and am now contemplating leaving before the ten year milestone which is frequently reported as a point by which 50% leave. The conflict between what teaching should be and what it is are my reasons which is why I am excited, and it should be noted for the first time in quite some time, by the potential for a brave new world of education.
Back to exams. If they can be forgone this summer and students still progress into employment, apprenticeships or university as it is expected to the point of certainty that they will then why return them? The case for exams is as follows: they are dispassionate and anonymous; they are standardised thus fair; They allow for results that are easily understood; They enable schools and teachers to be held to account by providing a way of measuring school achievement in terms of how many students achieve “good” results. This final point is the critical one as it is the most significant reason why many politicians are loathe to replace exams. It is also why ending exams as we know it would be such as a radical transformation as it would shift the balance of power in favour of classroom professionals in a way politicians are unwilling to do as it would create a self-confident profession possessing autonomy on an inconvenient scale.
Member of South West Norfolk Constituency Labour Party and Workplace Representative of Unite the UNION
With the introduction of a points-based immigration system, it got me thinking of the impact this is going to have on the non-skilled employment of Residential Support Workers. Added to this concern, we are still in the depths of the Coronavirus Pandemic and the nation now appears to value workers employed in Social Care, the frontline, and keyworkers.
Residential support workers are the people that look after children and implement the wishes and instructions of managers, local authorities, and the courts. They support the young person with a child-centered approach, use their interpersonal skills, and their ability to connect with young people to move them to a better emotional and stable state of mind. They find the good and best part of the child and nurture and support them to come to terms with and change direction from the traumatic start to their life.
The children live in a residential setting because a foster parent cannot be found, or their foster placements have broken down, or they chose to live in this ‘hustle and bustle’ environment. All the children, Support Workers are responsible for, have been placed there by local authorities or the courts. They have some fantastic times, but it is nothing like Tracey Beaker’s Dumping Ground, as portrayed on TV.
The young people are in care because they have been abused or have witnessed abuse, they could be perpetrators or victims, or they could just be too much for their significant person to cope with.
Ask yourself this, how much do Residential Support Workers earn and what skill set do they have?
To help, I have given you a guide to average wage rates from the Indeed.com website
(The National Minimum Wage is £8.32 per hour (2020))
Let us say that child (A) occasionally likes to punch you in the face, smash the furniture, rip doors off their hinges and punch holes through the walls. Would you need that Support Worker to be trained in positive behaviour management, first aid, anti-oppressive practices, dealing with group conflicts, person-centred support, the culture of participation, safeguarding, Pedagogy, and the Solihull approach?
(Sainsbury’s pay on average £8.59 per hour (2020))
Let us say that child (B) is a non-verbal autistic with violent tendencies due to his lack of communication skills. Would you require the Support Worker to use a picture exchange communication system, sign language, and to be trained in supporting people with autism and autism awareness?
(Average earnings for a gardener are £9.98 per hour (2020))
Let us say that child (c) has a medical condition. Would you require a Support Worker to administer their medication and understand the dosage system as well as undertaking epilepsy and insulin administration training where required?
(Average earnings of a driver are £11.59 per hour (2020)
Let us say that this child (D) is disabled and double incontinent. Would you want the Support Worker to be trained in safeguarding disabled children and intimate care, and manual handling and hoist training?
Let us say that child (E) had been sexually abused. Would you want the Support Worker to be trained in sexual health, human trafficking, attachment and child development, child sexual exploitation, and female genital mutilation awareness?
(Average earnings of a cleaner £12.05 per hour (2020))
Let us say that child (F) is at risk of radicalisation. Would you want the Support Worker to be trained in ‘Channel’ awareness?
Let us say that child (G) likes to slash his arms with sharp objects. Would you want the Support Worker to be trained in the mental health of young people and mental capacity?
Let us say that child (H) likes to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol. Would you like the Support Worker to be trained in alcohol and drug misuse as well as ‘County Lines’?
Let us say that child (I) is about to leave care. Would you like the Support Worker to be trained in information and advice, and housing, Personal Independence Payments, and Universal Credit benefit?
(Average earnings for loading and stocking £13.11 per hour (2020))
Now imagine you are not at home but working in a residential setting. You would need to be trained in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, infection control, health and safety, nutrition and diet, and food hygiene and safety.
Support workers are trained in all the above and much more. Their line manager will have had additional training in staff appraisals, performance management, giving and receiving feedback, discipline and grievance, complaint handling, safer recruitment and investigation skills in safeguarding.
And just to make sure the Support Worker is always up to speed, they will be spot-checked by Ofsted, refresh their training annually, and have a minimum qualification of NVQ level 3. We have not even mentioned the reams of paperwork that need to be completed daily.
(The average salary for a Veola refuse collector is £17.16 per hour (2020))
So how much is the Support Worker paid?
Well the answer is an average of £9.62 per hour.
Did you get it right?
When the TUC calls for a pay rise for all keyworkers, in real life, what can that possibly look like for Residential Support Workers (a few more pence per hour)?
Just because support workers are low paid, it doesn’t mean they are low skilled. So, when you are clapping your hands, on Thursdays, please give a thought for the Residential Support Workers and our European colleagues that prop up the Healthcare system.
Mary*, mother of three children ages 7,5 and 2, has little faith in the social safety net that’s supposed support her and her family.
“The Job Centre just isn’t interested in helping someone like me,” she says. “I left school at 16; I don’t have any qualifications. I’m 25 now and I’ve got nothing on my CV.”But her friend Molly* says a job, even a full-time one, doesn’t guarantee her family’s most basic expenses will be met.“My husband works more than 40 hours a week,” Molly, mother of two children aged 8 and 10, explains.“I still have to skip meals to make sure my kids are okay. I’ve worn the same leggings for five years,” she adds, smoothing over a frayed hole. “We’ve got a massive mould problem in our home but there’s just no money to fix it.”Mary and Molly have joined dozens of parents and their children who have dropped in at St. Catherine’s Church in Norwich to pick up free packed lunches – provided by the local Unite Community branch – over the school holidays.“It’s shocking to see the difference in our family’s expenses in term time and over the summer holidays – there’s sorting out childcare, finding activities, but most of all there’s food,” says Lucy*, another parent of three daughters aged 8,9 and 12.Lucy isn’t alone in struggling over the summer holidays. A report last year from the All Parliamentary Group on Hunger estimated that the loss of free school meals in the summer adds up to £40 a week to a family’s outgoings.For a city like Norwich – a place of apparent wealth juxtaposed with pockets of shocking deprivation – this is no mere figure in a government report. It’s a lived reality for the majority of households in some areas – 80 per cent of children in Mile Cross, a ward in Norwich, are on free school meals, compared to a national average of 14 per cent.