Schools

Letters: US election; Exams and algorithms; Ballot school workers?

Help defeat Trump Socialists in the US should be trying to build a working-class campaign to throw Trump out of power. In the last six months the Trump Administration has moved decisively in the direction of open fascism. Violent racist, transphobic and anti-left rhetoric was always part of his repertory. Since the start of the pandemic and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests that has stepped up decisively. Trump has effectively celebrated far right shootings of anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter protesters. He encourages followers to take up arms against BLM and Antifa. He is...

Schools: build health and safety committees

At the end of our first week back from school summer holidays a colleague of mine rang the parents of a Year 8 boy in her tutor group. The boy had done very well in school, and was clearly delighted to be back with his friends. So my colleague talked to the boy’s dad and told him how well the boy had been doing in class. The boy’s dad burst into tears. Presumably a mix of relief, intense long-term worry, and happiness, all coming to the surface at once. The kids really need to be back in class. That the Tories are saying it does not make it any less true. And the parents need to see their...

Abolish GCSEs!

Last year, Ken Baker, the Tory education minister responsible for introducing GCSEs and the national curriculum, said, “I am the author of GCSEs. I established those exams back in the 1980s, bringing together two exams” [O Levels and CSEs]. Baker claimed tests at 16 were then necessary “because lots of youngsters left school at 16,” but he went on to say, “Now with the leaving age going on to 18, you don’t need to test youngsters at 16. [GCSEs] are redundant.” (February 2019). Head teachers from the Girls’ Schools Association — academically selective girls’ schools — have slammed GCSEs as...

Union battle over New York school re-opening

The USA currently has a much higher rate of infection than the UK, with a Covid-19 death rate about 120 times bigger (proportional to population) than the UK, and a proportion of tests showing positive about 10 times bigger. In most big cities in the USA, schools are restarting online-only. New York was the hardest-hit area early on, but now has a lower rate of infection than many areas in the USA: about three times as many confirmed infections and deaths per day as the UK, relative to population. New York City’s schools are due to reopen to students on 21 September, with workers going into...

School reopenings: ballot on safety

The National Education Union (NEU) favours the reopening of English and Welsh schools in September, without qualification. That is positive. But the union is not advocating action to stop unsafe or careless practice by school managements. It is not even publicising to members Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, which allows workers to quit work areas where they see a “serious or imminent danger”. The NEU leaders proceed as if they are writing a comment piece in the Guardian, or a blog, rather than running a campaigning union. There are plenty of issues we need action to fix...

In defence of algorithms

As the editorial in Solidarity 560 said, the "condemnation of 'algorithms' [around the exam grades fiasco] was unfair on algorithms. If algorithms do not produce reasonable results, it is because humans have messed up". The point is worth a few further words, because hostility to "algorithms" in general can become obscurantist technophobia. An algorithm is a precisely-defined list of instructions, to do a calculation, or for that matter e.g. to bake a cake (in which case it is called a recipe). No more, no less. Algorithms can be badly done, as the ones for grades this year were. They can be...

GCSE and BTEC chaos: now redesign the system

The fiasco of A Level results on 13 August was followed by a week of government crisis leading up to 20 August when GCSE grades were announced. BTEC results, due to be released at the same time as GCSEs, were delayed at the last minute. Following a series of protests and government stumbles A Level grades were eventually, overall, boosted by allowing “teacher assessed grades” to count (in fact Centre Assessed Grades, CAGs, which are signed off by Head Teachers and are far from being simple teacher assessments). GCSE results (in England) were notable by a sharp increase in the pass rate (Level 4 and above), by 9%, to 76%. Awards of top grades (Level 7 and above) went up by 5% from last year to 25.9%. BTEC results are now due on 28 August.

Back to school: workers' control to make it safe

The government has a campaign to persuade parents that it will be safe to send children back to schools in England in September, following the return in Scotland on 11 August. Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Advisor to the UK government, says, reasonably, that it is important that all children are in school and that “the chances of children dying from Covid-19 are incredibly small.” Whitty added that there are no risk-free options but that children would suffer much more from long-term health and mental health problems by remaining out of school than from dangers associated from Covid-19. That is...

From e-campaigns to street campaigns

Article and video. “You’ve got to give all employees in the country the ability to self-isolate on full pay and it’s only that approach, in my view, that will really get this Test and Trace system working properly”, said Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham on 10 August. With Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram and the TUC, and with the backing of the unions Unison, GMB, Usdaw, Unite and CWU, he has launched a new website calling for all workers to get full pay, guaranteed by the government, when they self-isolate because they have Covid-19 or are identified as contacts of someone who has it. Since early in lockdown, Solidarity has been promoting the Safe and Equal campaign, whose leading demand is exactly that: full isolation pay for all. It’s great to have another website spreading the message.

School history and Black Lives Matter

A good historian and history teacher is a blend of detective, lawyer, and story-teller. At its simplest history is story-telling with evidence, though for many years history in schools was simply the story of rulers, of so-called great men. The stories of the little people, often far more interesting, were neglected. And the more oppressed the people, the more likely that their story remained untold in history books. Imagine for a minute you are a trans man or woman, or a black trans man or woman. You have all the experience of isolation in a cruel world full of prejudice and, to add salt to...

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