“I want my children’s education to be… not jam-packed full of pointless tests that I can’t do!” was just one of the posters filled in by angry parents at a public meeting in Harehills on Thursday 9th June.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Parents for Education organised the meeting at Bankside Primary School to discuss recent topical issues about education, such as the government’s forced academisation plans and the controversies around SATs.
Patrick Murphy, Leeds NUT divisional secretary, spoke first highlighting the crisis in education. He highlighted that such is the pressure now on children in schools, that stress due to this is now the main cause of depression and self-harm according to a recent report in the Times Educational Supplement.
There is also a school places crisis which is particularly acute in Leeds, where 60 parents in North East Leeds didn’t get any of their 5 choices of schools for their children forcing parents to trek long distances. With councils barred from opening new schools, they either have to rely on so-called ‘free schools’ or cram pupils into existing schools.
The government’s White Paper on Education was dangerous, beyond trying to force schools to become academies – which the government’s retreat on was a ‘body swerve’ trying to implement the same thing through the backdoor of punitive assesments or making local education bodies unviable. But the White Paper will also abolish parent governers and Qualified Teacher Status, leaving an education sector with less well trained teachers and removing parents democratic input into schools.
The NUT is balloting over these attacks, demanding in effect a national contract for teachers, so that pay and conditions are not determined academy by academy, free school by free school as the government intends.
Richard Burgon, Labour MP for East Leeds, was the second speaker. He admonished the record of Labour under Blair which was responsible for introducing tuition fees at universities and academies.
In his opinion the education ‘reforms’ were about two things – cuts and privatisation. He described the private sector, unwilling to invest and canibalising public services to boost profits as having a “parasitical relationship with the state”. In his opinion the neo-liberalism embraced by both Blair and the Tories was “code for turning the whole world into private property”.
Several questions went into the detail of the attacks and how to organise to resist them, including a discussion about opposing SATs and how some parents had boycotted their children sitting them. Undoubtedly such discussions will continue at future meetings.
But perhaps most striking was that asked by a local Labour councillor for Roundhay ward, Ghulam Hussein, who raised that to get rid of these attacks we would need to elect a Labour government in 2020, and how do we ensure that it committed to repealing these changes?
Burgon’s response was to state that he’d like to see the Tory government gone this year! But, he added, it would need to be replaced by ‘the right kind of Labour government’. The Socialist Party agrees that we need a government that puts workers and their families before the interests of profits, a task that if delayed until 2020 will see austerity devastate the lives of many more people.
Meetings of parents to link their fight for a decent education with that of teachers is an excellent step in the direction of building the kind of mass movement with co-ordinated strike action that could bring this rotten Tory government down.