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Proletarian issue 23 (April 2008)
Education update: school and university teachers to strike
Strike action in April

UCU, Unison, Unite, GMB and others have submitted a joint pay claim for further education staff for 2008/09, calling for a 6 percent increase or £1,500, whichever is the greater. This is intended to compensate for the 2.55 percent increase received for 2007/08, well below the RPI, which currently stands at around 4 percent.

The UCU is asking members to come out on strike on 24 April in support of the pay claim. The NUT is also balloting members for strike action on that day in support of its pay claim for school teachers.

Privatisation

Privatisation of the education system carries on slowly but inexorably.

Certain universities have been in talks with organisations such as Study Group International and Kaplan Inc (a US for-profit education services company with an annual revenue of nearly $2bn), discussing the possibility of these organisations taking over the provision of IT, vocational and language teaching, in particular for overseas students.

Of course, once their foot is in the door, these vultures will be perfectly poised to expand into other areas.

The implications for working conditions and quality of education are manifold. The UCU, in an open letter to vice chancellors and principals, has stated its concern about the potential impact on “the future pay, pensions, workloads, job security and even academic freedom of staff”.

Academic freedom

Of course, academic freedom for staff is not guaranteed even under a state-run education system. The whole purpose of a national curriculum is to limit academic freedom and to prevent the possibility of young people developing their revolutionary potential.

As A L Morton pointed out in A People’s History of England, Forster’s Elementary Education Act of 1870, which for the first time established a system of universal elementary education, was driven in part by the state’s desire to prevent workers from educating themselves, as “there was no guarantee that this self-education would not develop along subversive lines”.

The Guardian of 28 February reports a “radical strategy” drawn up by senior police officers “to stop British Muslims turning to violence” and to “stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism and violent extremism”. The document proposes:

i) giving guidance to parents on how to prevent children browsing websites considered ‘extremist’;

ii) adopting an “an anti-extremism agenda … in all state-maintained educational establishments from primary schools through to universities”.

It is not hard to imagine such a ‘strategy’ being used to suppress progressive, anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiments in schools.
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