Category Archives: Education

Pizza and policy: education

Sheffield Green Party last night had its first every “pizza and policy” evening at the Union St Coworking space.

It was a pleasantly sociable discussion – we’re going to hold them about monthly – but some real gems emerged from the discussion.

A few quotes:

“We have to go back to education that helps to develop whole human beings.”

“We need much more education open to everyone, of every age.”

“The only educational institution I’ve every enjoyed is the University of the Third Age.”

“Abolishing Ofsted would greatly cut teachers’ workload.”

And the saddest quote, from a current teacher: “I am under so much pressure now that I wasn’t four years ago.”


Disaster: Eight per cent cut in school funding

Tonight parents, at least one grandparent, teachers, school support staff, further education lecturers and politicians gathered in Sheffield to discuss how to respond to the massive cuts being faced by Sheffield schools.

What cuts, you might say? I’ve only heard about the new so-called “fair funding formula” – and we know London school will suffer that, but the government is just rebalancing over-funding there, so they tell us.

Well you don’t have to believe the teachers’ unions or political commentators, for no lesser authority than the National Audit Office has concluded that schools will have to make £3 billion in cuts by 2019-2010, amounting to a an 8% cut in real-terms funding.

In Sheffield, it is primary schools that are being worst hit in immediate terms by the “fair funding formula” – although of course those pupils will soon be secondary pupils – and their schools will have to scramble, and use resources, to make up for gaps.

To find out how every school in Sheffield (and around the country) is affected, this website has the full details.

While loss of staff is mostly being expressed in terms of numbers of teachers, in reality each class has to have a teacher, so it is support staff that are being hit first – teaching assistants in particular. We heard tonight that a “slash and burn” of staff is already underway, with union representatives struggling to cope with the numbers. Support particularly for students with Special Educational Needs and those for whom English is an additional language are likely to particularly suffer.

The cuts are being used to push even further the disastrous Conservative agenda of academisation of schools – a policy that absorbs even more precious funds through a hidden privatisation that sees schools forced to purchase services previously supplied through local authorities from expensive for-profit firms, and removed from local democratic control.

More, they are interacting with other Tory education policies that aim to suppress creative subjects in favour of a narrow mix of academic subjects. Choice of subjects is being lost to cuts, and the arts subjects essential to life – and our future economic prospects – are being dropped.

Schools are being forced to become exam factories.  As one contributor tonight said, the Tory aim is to ensure most pupils are educated to obediently follow instructions and not question.

But there’s going to be resistance – there was a strong determination tonight to get together different groups and organisations to ensure parents know what’s going on. And for me, one focus must be to ensure pupils know about the issue and have the chance to get campaigning.

There’s a very political generation of teens now – and they can be a powerful force of opposition.

Tonight I took a moment to read a pamphlet about the Chartists in Sheffield. It reported Isaac Ironside saying at Sheffield’s first Chartist meeting,1838 that the movement must campaign for good schools for children.

The campaign continues.

P.S. Chesterfield is ahead of us on this: they have a delightfully titled “Only Fools Would Cut Schools” event on April 1

Yes to free education, no to TEF

Tonight I joined members and supporters of the Free University of Sheffield at a rally at Sheffield Hallam University opposing increases in tuition fees and discussing ways to oppose the Teaching Exercise Framework (TEF), the implementation of which is being led by the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Professor Chris Husbands.

As the National Union of Students has said, TEF is being used to justify further rises in England’s already sky-high tuition fees, reflecting further marketisation of our higher education system.

The NUS is calling for a boycott of the National Student Survey that’s going to be a key component of the scheme – and tonight it was agreed that students across Sheffield should be encouraged to sign the pledge to boycott the NSS.

A great start – but important too to spread the word about what’s happening, and also to keep up the fight for free university education, a long-term Green Party policy.

We believe that education is a public good, the cost of which should be met from general progressive taxation, rather than weighing down individuals with a burden of debt that the majority will never be able to repay.

(Here’s some reflections from the Queen Mary University Young Greens on TEF and NSS.)

Educating Beyond Borders: Students With a Rightful Grievance

In 2010, visa rules for international students changed. Recently I met with a representative of some of the students who’ve been left in a disastrous, unreasonable situation as a result who’ve got together with supporters to form Educating Beyond Borders (EBB). They have effectively been defrauded of very large sums of money, paid in good faith on the expectation they would achieve complete qualifications.

To fully achieve professional qualifications in a number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) and VET (Vocational Education and Training Courses), there’s a requirement for students to work in a supervised way for a period after completing the academic components of a university course. In total it is thought 415 STEM and 222 VET courses are affected.

So for example to become a RIBA-qualified (Royal Institute of British Architects) architect, you have to work in an approved practice for two years before taking a final exam. Only after that can you get your qualification.

Students pay £200,000 or even more for courses, and then do the work (explicitly excluded by law from minimum wage legislation because it is part of their training).

Yet in 2010, for visa purposes, this was reclassified as “employment” for international students. Instead of being able to complete this period under a “Tier 4” student visa, the students have to find a way to get a far more difficult “Tier 2” working visa.

For some it’s impossible, for others it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. It is going to be the students of relatively less means who find it the most difficult.

Yet many students started their studies before the rules changed – they, and any other student who started their course in good faith, should at a minimum be able to complete their studies and the achieve the qualifications they’ve paid for, under Tier 4.

More, universities should not be offering these courses to new foreign students unless they have government guarantees that they’ll be able to complete the practical part of the course they’re paying huge sums for.

This situation needs to be distinguished from an issue affecting many students that at first glance looks similar, and is often confused with it. That’s the issue of “post-study visas”, the right for which was removed in 2012.

This allowed all non-EU graduates to remain in the UK for two years after their studies to work – a highly valued right that allowed students to them return to their home countries with combined practical and academic experience.

The loss of this been blamed in part for the plummeting numbers of students from the sub-Continent.

It’s an important issue, but a different one from what the EBB is addressing.

More, there’s an even bigger underlying issue here, about which I’m hearing increasing concern – that universities are treating non-EU students as “cash cows”, not properly meeting their needs or reasonable expectation. And there are accounts of universities using the threat of immigration officers to try to extract money from students and bring them into line.

And disturbing suggestions that students are getting a message that they’ll put their status in danger if they take part in political activities while they’re here. Very disturbing when you’d hope one of the “British values” they’d be learning about here is the right to peaceful political activity.