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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

by Natalie Bennett

There was an excellent turnout and a bouyant mood yesterday at a rally for the University of London cleaners who are campaigning for holiday and sick pay and pensions – following their victory last year in winnning the living wage.

Students, academics and fellow workers were backing the cleaners – as were representatives from the University of Sussex occupation, who made the link between privatisation and poor working conditions. Privatisation needs to be resisted, and the fact that organisations can’t wipe their hands of responsibility for workers’ conditions by outsourcing them were highlighted.

cleaners

I tweeted about my support for the campaign – and one response was “haven’t they already got sick and holiday pay and pensions?” – well exactly!

I spoke briefly at the rally as it marched around Senate House – incidentally as we stopped opposite the Briitish Museum back entrance. Chinese tourists there were taking photos – I don’t know what they made of it all!

You can show your support on Facebook and follow the campaign on Twitter.

And there are lots of excellent pictures from yesterday here and here.

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By Cllr Maya de Souza

The recent outcry about plans to slash funding for Highgate Library, reflects the current administration’s lack of openness and transparency about its plans for our libraries.

In mid-2011, a decision was made to radically reform our library provision, taking three libraries out of direct council control and giving them to communities to fund.

Two other libraries, Highgate and Regent’s Park, were also subject to change: the former to lose over 60% of its funding, and the latter to be closed and for a homework club-type arrangement to be set up instead.

I immediately raised questions about the cuts, pointing out that it seemed that if no alternative funds were found for Highgate Library, it was at risk of closure. It was not possible to see how a library already running on a shoe-string could struggle on with such severe cuts – if it did, it could not have anything like the same level of service.

And there was no evidence at all that any of the possible schemes and sources of funding mentioned by officers and Cabinet Members would come to fruition at all.

When Alexis Rowell, our Green candidate, pointed out in by-election material – leading up to the narrow election of Labour councillor Sally Gimson, that Highgate Library was clearly still at risk, Labour denied this strongly. They said that the library was not at risk and that it would stay open.

However, this June – nine months later – the Council held a public meeting led by Cllr Leach where it was stated that almost 75% of funds would be lost and admitted that they had no thought-out plans for ensuring sufficient funding for the library come April 2013 – now only about nine months away.

Cllr Leach admitted that the current funding level involves running a library on a shoestring. Clearly without 75% of its funds the library is at risk!

Residents have now put forward a proposal for a community-led steering group to explore options and guide the council as to the library’s future, and they have asked for the funding cuts to be put on hold until after a solution has been found.

Highgate Greens and I are pushing for funding cuts to be reduced, and in any event put on hold pending a solution.

We will be seeking to ensure that we do not lose this invaluable community resource. We think the library needs to be made even better, NOT starved of funding.

The sums involved are manageable, considering that Camden has cut its budget faster than is necessary.

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It’s tricky to police a major protest. The Met have a tough job. Lost in a huge crowd of people exercising their absolute right to peaceful protest, are a tiny number of people exercising their idiotic urges to smash stuff.

Kettling innocent people is not the answer. It is a surefire way of destroying trust between police and protesters, it gives moral authority to the troublemakers and, above all, it is a denial of the right to protest, a fundamental, essential part of a functioning democracy.

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Enjoyed a lively and passionate “Question Time-style” debate at lunchtime today attended by some 160 students at Westminster Kingsway College. It left me feeling very positive about the likelihood of younger people really stepping up into politics and fighting for their generation’s future. (Hopefully we’ll see a great turnout at the NUS march tomorrow.)

One of the issues I highlighted was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – the £30 a week that is paid to 16-18-year-olds remaining in education. It got a strong reaction – not surprising when a teacher noted that about half of students at the college currently receive it.

Another was the fact that under the former Labour government FE colleges were getting £1,000 of funding less per pupil studying A levels than were schools (and school pupils get free school meals while FE students don’t), and the Condem coalition is planning to cut this by a further 25%.

Tuition fees at university were also unsurprisingly the subject of strong reactions (particularly for the Lib Dem councillor in the debate). And there was a lot of interest in my explanation of the fact that the Green Party would abolish tuition fees. (As Caroline Lucas recently highlighted, an alternative to tuition fees would be a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies.)

But the interests in the debate weren’t narrowly focused on the practical interests of students.

There was a strong feeling in the room that the current economic system is fundamentally and hopelessly broken, that markets don’t have the answers, and an entirely understandably angry focus on executive pay (and that of top level civil servants).

And I was pleased with the anger and compassion in the question (and the audience response to it) about the fate of Mit Singh Chopra, an Afghan student of the college who was deported in the middle of his studies.

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As a parliamentary candidate, you receive many request to make pledges, endorse the stances, of voluntary and lobbying organisations.

Some excellent children’s/young people’s issues that I’ve heard about thus far that I’m happy to support:

* The National Union of Teachers and the Universities and College Union is calling for candidates to “stand up for education”, and I’ve signed on all six points.

I’m particularly taken by its schools pledge rejecting SATs. I think “teaching to the test” is causing enormous problems — and an awful lot of boredom. As someone who had a burning desire to learn in my early teens, which was gradually turned into an ability to do well in tests and exams by clever techniques without learning much at all, this strikes home to me.

* Action for Children is calling for support for early intervention to help children trapped in what they call as a cycle of deprivation. Happy to do so.

* The National Society for the Protection of Children is campaigning for child protection to be a top priority.

* I also back the Children’s Rights Alliance campaign to have UN Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated into UK law. Particularly notable is the fact that the UK has the second worst infant mortality rate of the 24 wealthiest countries in the world – too many children are being denied the most basic right of all.

* I also support the British Youth Council election manifesto. Its focus on addressing poverty and provision of youth mental health services is particularly admirable, and its call for the ovting age to be lowered to 16 has long been Green Party policy.

* On related issues, both nationally and internationally, I also back the Save the Children UK Poverty Kills Childhood campaign. It’s call for a “Robin Hood tax” is particularly appealing as a small step towards global justice. And the Unicef Put It Right campaign, focusing on global issues of water and sanitation.

Around about a decade ago I was working in Thailand on child labour issues, and when I read about these campaigns they take my memories back to children I met then. Many of them, I hope, will have made it through the hazards of an impoverished childhood, but I am sure that some of them won’t have.

I’ve already signed up to the National Union of Students fees pledge.

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I’m pleased to have been able to sign the National Union of Students Fees Pledge:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

As a Green candidate, I’m entirely comfortable doing so, since our party policy is simple: to abolish fees.

There are so many things wrong about fees it’s hard to know where to start, but perhaps a good place is the impact on discouraging students from lower income backgrounds from going to university. And if they do go, that debt hangs far more heavily on their shoulders than it does their peers from more affluent backgrounds – often pushing them into levels of paid work harmful to their studies.

Then there’s the impact of student debt on the choices our students and young graduates make. Burdened with heavy debt, many who might be fine teachers, or social workers, or community workers, instead feel pressured into studying courses, and then taking jobs, that will pay off the debt — such as in the City — rather than where their inclinations, and society’s pressing needs, might better direct them.

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