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Education should be joyful, hopeful and liberating. As part of the IWW we want to build an education system that frees minds, inspires hope and leads learners to question, criticise and create through their entire lives. We invite all members, friends and fellow travellers working and studying in education institutions who share these goals to join us in building a united and fighting education workers union and to organise for a democratic system of education for a better world.

 


Over the past decade we have seen conditions worsen for education workers and students as a result of austerity and crisis. Privatisation and the growth in the number of academies has led to education workers feeling increasingly demoralised and insecure. Around half of all teachers are planning to leave their jobs in the next 5 years. Support staff have seen lower wages, longer hours and temporary or fixed-term contracts replacing previously secure jobs. An increase in tuition fees and the increasing marketisation of education have led to students being seen more as customers interested in purchasing the best value product than as learners seeking education for its inherent value.

We have also seen promising steps forwards. Over the last few years student and education worker campaigns in London, organised by predominately migrant women cleaners have won major victories, including an end to outsourcing in SOAS. Earlier this year, the NUT and ATL merged to form the NEU, moving closer to one union for all education workers. Students have led campaigns for free education and against rent increases, as well as in support of education workers’ struggles. Internationally, we have seen militant education workers union struggles in Chicago and Mexico, and student struggles in Quebec.

Organising together gives us the chance to develop a vision of education under community and worker control. Together we can develop resources to support education workers, mentally and emotionally. We can build local education workers union branches, which can also be a place to campaign for a better education system and society, support ourselves and our fellow workers, intervene in trade union disputes, and unite workers across different trade unions to build a fighting union for all education workers.

How we see it

The experience of education for the majority of people seems to be a system of coercion, lacking autonomy and respect for students’ needs. Education is also increasingly designed as a means for preparing students to meet the demands of the labour market. Throughout the education system institutions have become exam factories where data is driving learning and curriculum design. Education has been shaped by and reduced to narrow economic goals dictated by a desire for profit.

Our system is also, fundamentally, an unequal one. The same quality of education is not guaranteed to all students, regardless of economic background, age or identity. A predominant experience of the working class within universities and school is marginalisation. Where campaigns for diversity and inclusiveness do exist, they are frequently co-opted as a marketing tool and driven by commercial concerns, not a substantive desire for a more inclusive and equal society. Minority groups are under-served by an education system that demands conformity and one-size-fits all approach. Race and gender prejudice punish educators in the teacher evaluation system and also in unequal pay progression. Curriculums are largely representative of a white, patriarchal culture with minority identities marginalised or invisible.

In our current period of austerity education is underfunded, with all sectors experiencing the tightening of budgets, increasing class sizes and understaffing. There is a lack of time and resources to adequately prepare and deliver quality education because of the immense and continual pressure to deliver the best possible exam results. Work across the sector is characterised by precarious contracts, instability of employment and a degrading of the profession, while support staff are increasingly being pressured to plug gaps in the budget. Anxiety and stress are common in both students and educators as a result of spiralling workloads and an ethos of intense scrutiny and competition. Guilt and emotional pressure are used as motivators and often applied as tools to divide educators, parents, students and other workers. Evaluation is not used as a guide for improvement but as a means to pressure practitioners for continual improvement.

As education workers, we demand better. We want fundamental and radical changes to create an education system that works for all of us.

A new vision for education

The struggle for democratic education should be at the forefront in the struggle for a democratic society that fulfils all our needs. This ultimately conflicts with the need for profit and forces us into conflict with the logics of capitalism.

We believe that learning should be practised and celebrated as a worthwhile and valuable activity in itself, where knowledge and enquiry are open-ended. We argue that educators should embrace a cross-curricular and cross-skill approach to learning, an approach where there is less focus on discrete subjects as the defining experience of learning and more on investigation, creativity and enquiry. Critical thought should be developed as a central skill of learning.

We need to fight for equality of access to education, regardless of the socio-economic status, age, needs or identity of students. Behaviour and disciplinary issues often arise from inadequacies of provision and failure to address the needs of learners.

We aspire to create “horizontal classrooms” and to remove hierarchy from learning. These principles should form an ongoing part of our practice as well as an ultimate goal. Educators should respect the experiences, background and knowledge of students and build education on that basis. Educators should aspire to play the role of ‘expert-guides’, facilitating a learning process in which students play a central role in defining their educational needs.

Educational institutions play an important role within communities. They can both add value to them and make use of them. They should, therefore, aim to represent the interests of the communities they serve. We argue that they should be placed under community and worker control and that these should play a full democratic and participatory role in their governance and the way they allocate resources.

To join or to find out more about the IWW, visit www.iww.org.uk

 

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