What we’ve done so far:
The education sector working group of the class composition project has now been active for a number of months, and we’re making steps to move our project into the next stage. We’ve been analysing responses to our survey , to get a picture of the broader trends and patterns in work and struggle across the education sector, and we’ve also conducted a series of long- form interviews with different education workers, to further clarify the experience of working and organising in education over the last year. Engaging education workers across higher, secondary and primary education has been a primary concern – drawing insights from each into comparison, and so hoping to avoid the far too common separation of workers across a common industry, and with the aim to recognise shared potentials for political intervention and mobilisation.
We are an open group of education workers and students from across the UK who have come together to establish an education component of Notes From Below’s broader Class Composition project. Given the decade-long cycle of national demonstrations and strikes within higher and further education, the repeated national confrontations between teachers unions and the government, as well as the ongoing localised disputes unfolding in schools and higher education all around the country, we have begun to situate these education struggles alongside one another, and to see how they map onto disputes and shifts in work in the other industries being explored in the Class Composition project.
This call-out is primarily to invite other workers and organisers to write, share and reflect on their own workplaces and organisations. This can be done through contributing short or long reflection pieces, as well as by participating in our national workshop on 30th October (see here as well as below for further details).
We recognise that we must not limit ourselves to analysing the immediate conditions of nation-wide disputes, such as around pensions and UCU’s ‘four fights’ campaign, however vital they are. Rather, we need to develop a platform for drawing together the lessons of the many localised campaigns happening within and outside the formal union apparatus. Central to this project is therefore to also focus our attention to those struggles not well represented, widely understood or focused on.
The education sector is undergoing major shifts in its composition, from the nature of employment for workers in primary, secondary, and post-16 education, or in the massification of student bodies within universities. We see our inquiry not merely as a sociological study of current trends in workplace disputes, but as a tool for militant intervention into these struggles.
The key issues in the sector; schools/colleges and universities:
From what we have found so far, there are a number of themes most commonly mentioned, and that have given us a general direction for continuing our analysis. As outlined in our general update on the project, we have found the prevalence of deskilling in schools and colleges particularly prominent, such as with the increasingly common use of teaching assistants as substitute teachers for a minimal extra rate. Our interviews and survey results have similarly pointed toward stark inter-generational dynamics shaping the nature of organising in education work, with different sets of investments, experiences and expectations creating divisions within the workforce. Many report on the hostile environment in their workplace, particularly from an unresponsive manager tier, and that structural and overt bigotry continues to profoundly shape their experiences in education work. Deep-set issues of sexism and racism intensify difficulties in organising in these conditions. Worries over casualisation and intensified precarity of work were widely reported alongside a general sense of despair in being able to combat these trends.
Many respondents note issues with effective unionisation and concerns with the limits of formal organising in their workplaces. For example, several participants in interviews have pointed toward informal and inter-personal networks as more vital to their navigating of the COVID-19 crisis, than the support they received from their unions. The structure of unions and the decision making processes over how struggles are led, won and ended, is an evident point of tension for many militants in the education sector, with the need for a renewed socialist rank and file perspective equally clear.
What are the main areas that are “unknown”
However, a number of key areas remain relatively ‘unknown’ in their specifics to us. These areas include, for example, the role and state of outsourcing in the primary and secondary education sectors. We hope to have further engagement with non-teaching staff across the sector, such as from cleaners, caterers and administrative workers – their experiences in meeting the demands of management under the hostile conditions of COVID-19 remain crucial to think through.
Given the above, we also wish to get a clearer picture of what is undermining cultures of militancy across education, and what shape effective campaigns have taken over the last years. How did movements relate to formally recognised unions and their national guidance? What were the successes and limitations in organising through localised campaigns?
We are therefore opening a public call to education workers. We are looking for both:
Pitches for full pieces (up to 2,000 words) to be published on Notes from Below and used in our analysis as part of the class composition project;
Submissions of shorter pieces of writing, statements and/or opinions. We want your contributions regardless of length, writing style or topic!
We are particularly keen for responses relating to the aforementioned gaps in our knowledge that we have located, but we welcome pitches and responses from education sector workers relating to any topic on the class composition of their workplace and/or sector. For full pieces, we have a worker writing fund available, to give small bursaries to contributors. These pieces might be submitted by individuals or campaign groups, and we look forward to hearing about your experiences as workers and militants struggling alongside us in education! Members of the education group, as well as NfB editors are always happy to discuss potential ideas as well as to support contributors in the writing process. No prior experience is needed!
If you are interested in contributing, or attending the workshop, please fill in this short form here , or get in touch with us by email.
We are collecting all these responses in anticipation of a workshop on 30th October, in which we aim to bring together education sector workers from across the country, to discuss the nature of our work, the collective gaps in our knowledge and how we can fill them, and most importantly, how we can collectively resist and transform our work.
If you are interested in joining this workshop, please register your interes tabove, as well as your preference for the workshop to be online, in-person, or a hybrid of the two.