English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) – target of the cuts! - 26 Feb 2011

English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) – target of the cuts! - 26 Feb 2011The proposal to cut free ESOL, English lessons provided in colleges and by charities across the country, is a direct attack on the future of asylum seekers and refugees in Britain.

ESOL will no longer be free for those who need it, but only for ‘priority groups’ – those unemployed and those on income support. The majority of those on low wages will have to pay at least 50% for lessons – many of whom will not be able to afford this alongside basic living expenses. Asylum seekers will be some of the hardest hit; they will have to pay at least 50% of the cost, and yet aren’t allowed to work or claim Jobseeker’s Allowance whilst waiting for a decision.  The voucher support many receive cannot be exchanged for lessons, meaning access to lessons is impossible. The only hope for those who can’t afford is to try and get a space with a charity, but with lessons already heavily subscribed, the provision for all simply won’t be possible.

Read more ...

Students mobilise against attacks on education / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

Students across the country have continued to mobilise to defend the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA – the grant of up to £30 a week that enables many sixth-formers to stay in education) and the right to university education for all.

In doing so they have had to challenge the abject failure of the National Union of Students (NUS) to support their direct action (see FRFI 218), forming student councils in many universities to democratically guide the new movement, outside the control of the NUS. Labour apparatchik Aaron Porter, President of the NUS, who originally condemned students who occupied Millbank in November as ‘despicable’, was forced to apologise for his comments. However, students are clearly not fooled by this opportunist: at a demonstration against university fees called by the TUC in Manchester on 29 January he was jeered and heckled, eventually having to be escorted away by police ‘for his own protection’!

Earlier, the NUS had argued that the student-led National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts should not sponsor the 29 January demonstration in London because it would clash with the TUC march in Manchester and hence ‘split the movement’! It is clear that the opportunists are desperate to control the growing militancy of the student movement which shook cities around the country in December 2010.

On 9 December, over 30,000 students occupied Parliament Square in London as MPs voted to raise university tuition fees to up to £9,000. They were confronted by riot police batons and sustained charges by police on horseback. Angry students resisted police attempts to pen them in, pushing back police lines with shields improvised from metal fencing and wooden placards. Some students invaded the Treasury building and attacked the Supreme Court. Later in Oxford Street the windows of tax-dodging Topshop were smashed, and the royal car containing the parasites Prince Charles and Camilla was attacked.

On 11 January 2011 thousands of college students walked out of classes as MPs voted to scrap EMA. A second national school walkout on 26 January resulted in a violent police attack in Leeds after protesters targeted Lloyds TSB. Many were beaten and a student was violently arrested.

Many students were arrested on the demonstrations, and many more in the following weeks as police trawled through video footage. The courts are using political sentencing to deter future protests; 18-year-old Edward Woollard was sentenced to 32 months for throwing a fire extinguisher off the top of Millbank Tower – compare that with PC Simon Har­wood who was not even charged with assault after killing Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009. FRFI will support all defence campaigns in whatever way we can.

Today’s youth face an unemployment rate of 20.3% for those aged between 16 and 24; the rate for recent graduates is 20% compared to a national average of 7.9%. The economic and political exclusion of British youth has fuelled the militancy of the protests. We should take inspiration from the insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt as an example of what is possible.

Rob Barrie

Class privilege: still the driving force of the education system in Britain / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

What’s going on, Gove?

Education Secretary Michael Gove is a devious man. He has a vision of every school being independent of state shackles but in reality his plans for ‘free’ schools and academies are stumbling along with very little vision and rather a lot of money from central government. His every announcement about cuts in government spending provokes such roars of outrage that he has had to immediately retract or modify them – or has he? Was money cut from the Book Start Scheme or not, following protests from children’s authors? Will School Sports Partnerships be cut after leading sports people objected? Will the funding for the £38.1 million-a-year Creative Partnerships project be withdrawn despite the fury of critics including actor Sir Ian McKellen? Answers remain vague. What is certain is that 75% of state schools face cuts in real terms in the next academic year.

The ‘free lunch’ method

So far head teachers have not challenged the cuts agenda, but are merely dancing to Gove’s tune in a competitive struggle to get the most funding possible for their own schools. The pupil premium – extra cash of approximately £123,560 for any school with 35% or more of pupils on free school meals – will be withdrawn from schools with lower percentages. Schools are now encouraging parents to apply for free school meals to get more from central budget.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc)

The word is Latin in origin but in English it is pronounced ‘grammar school’. This year’s school League Tables will be graded on the number of pupils achieving grade A*-C in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and either history or geography – the newly-minted English Bacc. All excellent subjects no doubt, but since 2005 – when taking a foreign language GCSE was made optional under Labour – most schools substituted vocational qualifications, IT and Business Studies for the traditional humanities. Consequently, many schools will slip down this year’s League Tables. One school had more than 70% of pupils achieving the previous government GCSE benchmark. This drops to 3% measured as EBacc. Nationally, only 16% of schools will achieve passes in the academic subjects that, as it so happens, Gove himself took at school.

League Tables for five-year-olds

Gove wants schools to be pitted against each other in national competition, continuing the illusion that schools are a market and the parents consumers. Plans are underway to publish League Tables of learning achievements for five-year-olds ‘so that parents can know the best schools’. But increasing competition between schools for the best pupils does not achieve better results nationally. The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment test results published in December 2010 show the UK dropping from 17th to 25th place amongst OECD countries in reading, 24th to 28th in maths and 14th to 16th in science. Only seven OECD countries spend more per student than the UK, so the results indicate the uneven and divisive use of educational resources in this country. Class privilege and competitiveness are still the driving forces of the education system in this country. We need to democratise the lot.

Susan Davidson

Stop the cuts! Defend the protesters! / FRFI 219 Feb/Mar 2011

FRFI 219 February / March 2011

FRFI supporters around Britain have been participating in demonstrations against tuition fees, the cutting of EMA and the creeping privatisation of education. On 29 January FRFI joined the national anti-cuts march in London and the student and trade union march in Manchester, where sell-out NUS leader Aaron Porter needed a police escort to protect him from angry students.

Since the third national day of action against fees and cuts on 9 December, hundreds of people have continued to take to the streets to protest. Newcastle FRFI has been active with Students Against Cuts, whose members have been among the most militant and consistent activists, occupying shops that support the cuts such as Marks & Spencer, protesting against high-street chains including BHS and Topshop that are owned by Philip Green, millionaire tax evader and government adviser on the cuts, and targeting the Local Government Offices and Newcastle Civic Centre. This resistance has been met with political policing: the HSBC 3 – Mark Pearson, Patrick Reay and Toby Hobbs – were arrested following protests on 18 December. On 30 December over 30 people picketed Market Street Police station in protest at this criminalisation, before moving on to shut down a local branch of HSBC. HSBC has dodged an estimated £2 billion of tax since 1993, and is among the real criminals of the capitalist crisis. On 14 January, Prime Minister David Cameron was caught out in Newcastle as protesters learned of his ‘secret’ meeting with local primary school children at Newcastle’s Centre for Life. Protests quickly grew, leading to one arrest.

In Glasgow two FRFI supporters were arrested on 9 December during student protests. The Glasgow Defence Campaign has organised meetings calling for support, held street protests and built resistance to political policing (see page 4). On 22 January FRFI joined a picket in support of Irish Republican POWs in the East End of Glasgow, with a banner saying ‘NO to political policing!’ The next day, supporters joined the annual Bloody Sunday march. A speaker at the rally, who himself was shot in Derry on Bloody Sunday, was threatened by police for ‘swearing’ and at the end of the rally they detained and questioned him and another speaker.

In London FRFI is bringing the ideological battle against the cuts to the streets of Holloway, Stratford, Brick Lane, Wood Green and Brixton, with street stalls every weekend. We attended the National Shop Stewards Network conference, which voted in favour of an anti-cuts campaign prepared to hold Labour councils to account for the cuts they implement.

On 8 December David Yaffe, editor of FRFI, spoke at a meeting of the London School of Economics FRFI society about the cuts and the crisis, highlighting the parasitism of British capitalism, and the reasons for the latest attacks on education and welfare. Go to http:// tinyurl.com/4heyzrv to watch a video of the talk. Juan Carlos Piedra, from the London Living Wage Campaign and Movement of Ecuadorians in the UK, spoke about the impact of the cuts on low-paid migrant workers. David also spoke on 2 December to a meeting of students in the occupation of University College London.

Fight imperialism! Freedom for Palestine!

In Manchester, on 4 December supporters held a successful rolling picket, starting outside Lloyds Bank, which refused Palestine support charity InterPal an account; moving on to M&S; Schuh, one of the biggest stockists of Caterpillar footwear in Britain (Caterpillar also makes bulldozers that Israel uses to destroy Palestinian homes); Tesco, which consistently sells produce from the West Bank and finishing outside H&M which is in the process of opening new stores in Israel.

In Newcastle FRFI works alongside other activists in the Palestine Action Group (PAG), an open and democratic campaign which opposes all British support for Israel and stands in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. On 8 January PAG held a successful ‘Israel off your trolley’ event, targeting companies that support Israel, following an international call for action after Palestinian activist Jawaher Abu Rahmeh was killed in Bilin on 1 January.

In Newcastle and London FRFI supporters continue to demonstrate every Thursday outside Marks & Spencer, Britain’s biggest retail sponsor of Israel. There have also been regular pickets of M&S branches in Glasgow city centre. We have joined demonstrations outside the Israeli Ahava beauty products store in Covent Garden, London and against the sale of Dead Sea Products in Dundee. We welcome the news that, in response to campaign pressure, John Lewis has stopped selling Ahava Dead Sea beauty products, produced in illegal Israeli settlements, and that Premier Dead Sea Products has been forced out of Dundee after a militant and public campaign by the local branch of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

Fight racism! Together we are stronger!

On New Year’s Eve FRFI activists in London supported a demonstration outside Holloway women’s prison, in support of asylum seekers being held without charge in criminal prisons following a hunger strike and protest at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in February 2010. One of the women has now finally been released on bail but the struggle against her deportation and for freedom for the others continues. For more information email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Newcastle FRFI continues to play a leading role in Tyneside Community Action Against Racism (TCAR), bringing an anti-racist message to the streets of Newcastle with regular ‘speak outs against racism’ and meetings, presenting the argument that to beat the cuts we need to be united along class lines internationally and oppose all attempts to divide and weaken the working class.

Viva socialist Cuba!

The example of socialist Cuba is increasingly important to the anti-cuts movement in Britain as it demonstrates what can be achieved through a system which values human life instead of bankers’ profits. Rock Around the Blockade holds regular events, meetings and film shows. Recent screenings in London include Mission against terror – about the incarceration of the Cuban 5, political prisoners in the US. In Newcastle RATB held a packed out showing of Salud!, which explores the Cuban health care system and the role of Cuba’s legendary international medical brigades abroad. Salud! will be shown in London on 13 February, at a meeting which will look at the incredible contribution made by Cuban doctors in Haiti following the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2011. A representative from FRFI also spoke about the Cuban medics in Haiti at the London demonstration called by Haiti First! Haiti Now! on the anniversary of the earthquake.

Higher education under threat /FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

Chancellor Osborne’s October Comprehensive Spending Review left no stone unturned – across the board, public spending is being slashed. For the Chancellor, higher education was to be no exception.

The announcements were as swift as they were brutal. Higher education teaching budgets are to be cut by 80%. To make up for the gaping hole in education funding, the publication on 12 October of Lord Browne’s report, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education in the UK, advocates lifting the cap on tuition fees to at least £7,000. Universities minister David Willetts expressed his support for the general sweep of the report and on 3 November he announced plans to increase tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year – almost triple current levels – with a ‘basic threshold’ of £6,000. The fees will be the highest for any publicly funded university in any developed country.

Willetts said that the rise in tuition fees would not be implemented overnight; a written statement to MPs confirmed that the cap on tuition fees would initially rise in line with inflation for students starting in September 2011 to £3,375, up £85 on this year. By doing this, the fee rise is unlikely to affect many students currently in or having just entered university – the intention is to limit the resistance that students will mount. Although the strategy worked when the Labour government first introduced fees in 1999, it failed this time when student demonstrators occupied the Tory headquarters on 10 November, in direct action against these attacks. Undoubtedly, more will come as the attacks on education make their presence truly felt.

Together with the severe cuts in higher education funding, the ConDems plan to encourage the privatisation of university education. Within universities, private companies have been vying for new opportunities to profit from running courses. In mid-October, the University of Nottingham launched a new module jointly designed by their chemistry department and GlaxoSmithKline. Meanwhile, Morrisons supermarket announced on 20 October that it would fund 20 undergraduates each year starting in January 2011 as part of its three year BSc in business and management at Bradford University. Company management training programmes are being awarded degree status. Such a strategy differs little from that of the previous Labour government, which instituted tuition fees and aggressively encouraged the involvement of private investors in universities – and originally commissioned Lord Browne’s report.

Research was one area that did not have its funding directly cut. In real terms it is to be maintained at £4.6 billion, of which 25% is for military purposes. The government has its priorities set. No direct cut to its funding, however, is not to say that it is safe. In September 2009, under the Labour government, the Higher Education Funding Council for England issued the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This plan established three criteria for research to attain funding: output, impact and environment. Impact was specifically set out in terms of economic impact; to get funding, researchers have to find a user and demonstrate that their research is in their economic interest. The aim is to provide ‘research mobility’ between universities and private firms. The very notion of research is undermined – research is now made to line the pockets of private companies, not to improve human knowledge. Willetts said that the government will delay a decision on REF, ‘to establish whether a sound and widely accepted measure of impact exists’.

Under the new funding regime, universities will be allowed to fail if they cannot get sufficient funding from fees and research incomes to cover their costs. Universities will be forced to compete against each other in the marketplace, and will seek economies of scale, reducing unit costs by increasing student numbers per lecturer and reducing expenditure on equipment. Universities will push for shorter and more online courses, increasing turnover and income at the expense of educational content. Mergers and takeovers will begin as universities start to fail. Like vultures, Russell Group universities and private companies such as Kaplan, BPP and Pearson will circle over failing institutions, eager to get their foot in the burgeoning market and make profits. Higher education is seen only in terms of its benefit for capitalism and selfish aspirations of the individual; it is being turned into a commodity.

Statistics released by UCAS show that roughly 209,000 people failed to get to university in autumn 2010 as a result of the freeze in university places announced by the previous Labour government. Access will further diminish as universities begin to fail in the marketplace – universities like London Metropolitan, which has as many Afro-Caribbean students as the 20 elite Russell Group universities combined, will begin to close their doors, increasing the already unequal state of higher education in Britain. Further education colleges, which are also on the receiving end of a 25% budget cut by 2014-15, will be permitted to run degree programmes. Colleges could deliver degrees at cut rates and inferior quality – second and third class education for the working class.

Tuition fees are already unaffordable for many, with more than two thirds of the students who have started university this term expecting to fund their education through part time work. The fee rise to £9,000 will amplify this, and make the already elitist British education system even more inaccessible to working class youth. Meanwhile, those who do manage to graduate face uncertain futures – graduate unemployment is now at its highest in 17 years, with nearly one in 11 graduates unemployed six months after leaving university. The choice for young working class people is clear – wave goodbye to any hope of a university education or fightback. Events of 10 November set an inspiring precedent for just this.

Murray Andrews