As a parent governor at Lukes Lane Community School in Hebburn, South Tyneside, I was perhaps as angered as any - 4 years ago - at the news that our school had been given the death penalty and handed an execution date some time in the next two years; angered also at the damned lies and deception fellow governors encountered whenever we asked council education officials about the rumours that schools would close. Undoubtedly they knew all along.
Lukes Lane school was only one of many facing the axe back then. In all, the local council was planning to close 14 schools, with a knock on effect to another 17. And why the mass closures? So South Tyneside Council could save money. Yup, at the end of the day we were down to that age old problem - pounds before people! Of course, the local council were only acting on instructions from higher up the chain of command – from the government, which itself was only kowtowing to the capitalist god Mammon.
To cut a long story short, we battled, argued our case and Lukes Lane Community School won a stay of execution.
Today I attended a meeting of head teachers and chairs of governing bodies, where we were told that once again the education axe was being sharpened and was being readied for action. At a specified date within the next month, a dozen or so schools will be told, in no uncertain terms: “your number is up, me old mucker.”
And what will the effect of this decimation be? Unemployed teachers, classroom assistants, caretakers, kitchen staff and cleaners. In some instances the heart of the community will be wrenched out, for the simple reason the local school is one of the few places parents can meet together. Labour, it would seem, for the town hall in South Shields is under Labour Party control, is also intent on continuing the Thatcherite policy of destroying close-knit communities of workers.
Precious teacher-parent relationships, school-community relationships - things you really can’t put a price on, things it has taken decades to establish - are being subordinated to the capitalist god Mammon. A Labour controlled council suddenly finds it too costly to maintain its current meagre investment in the borough’s children (though it can bloody well invest in arms manufacturers).
But wait! Wasn't it a Labour government that came to power with the slogan: "Education, Education, Education"? Wasn't it Blair who told us that a vote for him was a vote for smaller class sizes and hence a better quality of education for our children? When schools show smaller class sizes - in this instance because of population trends – the local council sees this as an opportunity to close and merge them and to hell with those aforementioned relationships and the cost and inconvenience to the local community.
Schools should belong to nobody - certainly not controlled by a handful of pompous and overpaid bureaucrats at the town hall. They should be the common heritage of all our children, even if we acknowledge that their present function is to churn out literate and passive wage slaves for industry and cannon fodder for the state’s war machine.
Their fate, however, has been announced by an unaccountable Cabal without much prior warning to the most effected. Nobody knows yet which schools will close. All we know is that on D Day, school head teachers will get that feared phone call. The remit of these bureaucrats running the education system? It’s simple really – education at the lowest possible cost; which is perhaps not surprising considering we live in a two class system in which every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the requirements of profit. It now remains the be seen whether, in the coming months, the parents of South Tyneside will realise their collective strength, organise a massive united campaign, and give education chiefs the battle they deserve.
This, is not to encourage the reformist route, but simply to state a fact – that at a time when parents’ elected representatives - MPs - prefer to sit on the sideline, when teachers fear the wrath of their own union should they side with parents, there is little else for parents do but to unite in common cause?
In a sane world education would not suffer the constant interference of penny-pinching bureaucrats and careerists. Schools would be there to educate, not to train the next generation of workers. Even today, teachers, parents and students are quite capable of working more closely together and to come up with an education system superior to that now in existence. Not only do they have the benefit of a more intimate understanding of schools and children than those presently calling the shots, their goals are different from the objectives of the present educational system’s elite.
Sadly, all too often people come up with improved ways of doing things in this society, only to have their views dismissed as the rantings of utopian dreamers. Never because such ideas can’t work, but because they come into direct conflict with powerful interests. And neither is the education system immune.
Let’s be honest here. The education system is in a state of constant crisis, whether your focus is student grants, ‘A' level results or closing schools. The cause is not tiny class sizes, inadequate teachers, callous parents, unruly kids or lack of resources, or indeed any of the other explanations offered by the apologists for the profit system. The real problem is that the education system is driven by the needs of profit and social control, and exists solely to maintain the class structure.
In his book We Can Change the World – The Real Meaning of Everyday Life, David Stratman writes:
“The function of education in any society is the reproduction of that society – that is, the transmission of the values and relationships which characterise it…In class society, the social and political values which the school system is designed to transmit are the values of the dominant class. In aiming to reproduce capitalist social relations and values, the goal of the education system is to reproduce inequality.” (P.68)
Whatever good exists in schools, whatever valid learning goes on, whatever genuine cooperation takes place, whatever real successes teachers achieve and whatever real self confidence students develop: all these occur in spite of the system, not because of it. They occur because the people who matter in education, those who genuinely care, are engaged in a constant struggle to accomplish their shared goals, in spite of the barriers to their success which the market system constantly throws up.
Of course, success is limited. Parents and teachers may well be conscious of factors they are up against. However, the real one they need to consider is that the goals of the system are quite different from their own goals. And it is only when such goals are acknowledged that the real class struggle begins and schools will at last be truly free to educate.