Socialist Worker

Sixth form college strikers stand up for students and against education cuts

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2679

Strikers at St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College on Tuesday

Strikers at St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College on Tuesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Workers across 25 sixth form colleges across England struck together on Tuesday.

It was the second strike in the NEU union’s campaign to win more funding and higher pay.

The walkout hit sixth form colleges in London, Sheffield, Cambridge, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Brighton, Leeds, Surrey and many other places.

The union wants an extra £700 million in funding to make up for real terms cuts since 2010. Strikers told Socialist Worker about the horrendous impact of the cuts on students.

Caroline works with students with special educational needs at Newham Sixth Form College in east London. “We have to wait longer for students to be assessed,” she said.

“If we’re short of staff we prioritise those with severe needs. Students with moderate needs are overlooked.”

Striker Fran added, “One of my students is partially sighted. In some lessons there is no extra support worker for her, and it’s because of funding cuts.

“She needs someone to read things to her, but instead she brings a laptop and tries to enlarge materials on the screen.”

NEU rep Catherine said cuts to funding could be “dangerous”. “If students have problems and no one to go to, they will slip through the net,” she said.

“There will be more safeguarding issues.”

Strikers at Newham Sixth Form College

Strikers at Newham Sixth Form College (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Striker Ben said tutors, who provide pastoral care and help students with Ucas university applications, have been cut.

“A lot of students have special needs, mental health issues or are new to learning English,” he said. “But out of 14 tutors, 12 went and there are only a handful of permanent tutors now.

Flare-ups

“We’re seeing more flare-ups and behaviour problems.”

And Ben added that cuts have affected the help students receive with their Ucas applications.

 “I worry about the quality of the advice students are getting,” he said.

“Some students could miss the deadline for applying, and others will end up doing courses they aren’t suited for.”

The campaign has galvanised more people into action.

Jean Evanson is the NEU’s post-16 national executive member and was on strike in Shrewsbury. “We spoke to lots of members of the public on our picket line and afterwards in Shrewsbury town centre,” she said.

“People understood how education has been cut in the same way as other services, such as the NHS. We got lots of people out on the streets petitioning and leafletting, and many had never done that before.”

Tom from Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge was out leafleting people outside Cambridge train station. “We ended up having discussions with train drivers in the Aslef union,” he said. “They brought us some coffees in solidarity.

“It was a confidence-building exercise. And we had members from the two striking colleges in Cambridge taking activity together, which doesn’t happen very often.”

The first strike on 17 October saw new faces on picket lines and more workers joining the union.

Workers are striking to defend education

Workers are striking to defend education (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Newham NEU rep Rob said, “We’ve had about 12 people join the union since the strikes began. When people see you’re taking action, they want to get involved.”

Tom added, “There is no argument with anyone about whether they’re coming out. Everybody’s coming out. And in both Cambridge colleges people joined the union before the first day and the second day.”

Reballots

The NEU plans a third strike on Wednesday 20 November. And reballots of 16 colleges that narrowly missed the 50 percent turnout threshold in the strike ballot could mean even more colleges join it.

Tom said, “Now the union needs to call more days to keep up the momentum. The key thing is to keep pushing for more action.”

Joint NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney previously said that, in the event of a general election, the union would keep up the fight. It must stick to that promise.

Jean said that some had asked whether strikes in an election period are a good idea as “the dispute is with the government and we might have a different government”.

But she argued, “The election gives us a chance to get more attention focused on the issue of funding cuts.”

Rob agreed that the election “is the perfect opportunity to put education cuts high up the political agenda”.

And Fran added, “I don’t want this to become a Brexit election. It has to be about all the issues that ordinary people are facing.”


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