Wrong priorities in education

In the last few weeks the Tories, headed by Gavin Williamson Secretary of State for Education (pictured), have been busy putting out new information for schools to safeguard children. Unfortunately the threats they’re tackling are not the growing threat of coronavirus[1], but the threat to their minds from dangerous ideas like anti-capitalism in move that has echoes of the homophobic section 28 of Thatcher.[2] Already various right wing talking heads are calling this a overreaction to further normalise this cracking down in education.

The data published by the Office For National Statistics clearly shows that cases of COVID-19 are rising fastest amongst young people from 12 to 24.[3] This comes as a result of government’s decision[4] (supported by the Labour Party[5]) to send students back to schools and universities and has led to a series of student lockdowns. Of course this has led the government to blame the very people they have endangered.

This is hardly a shock to many young people who grown up in the era of capitalist austerity, nor the education unions who warned of this very situation weeks ago.[6] Because the ‘incompetence’ decried by many commentators isn’t simply a failure of government, but the realities of the Britain created by neo-liberalism. Unions have been largely excluded from planning a return to work in English schools and universities, giving them little ability to ensure safe working conditions. Kids were sent back to school to free up their parents to get back to work.[7] Universities reopened because they’re now businesses where students are the consumer, halls of residence and courses the commodity. This is what is needed for capitalism to function, and unfortunately for the rest of us the priority is property and profit not people.

Young people are living through all this and are overwhelming turning against the Tories. In the wake of this the government has opted to try and stifle teaching to limit the horizons of young people, as the reality is that this is the society the ruling class want and they don’t want that fact challenged.

This is further evidenced by the fact that schools cannot work with organisations that do not ‘condemn illegal activities’ done in their name, or promote a ‘victim narrative that are harmful to society’. Letting a Tory minister determine what these mean in practice as the party continues to embrace the far right could have some very troubling implications.

The problem for them and all rulers is that people are shaped by their experience. For most young people that experience is being poorer than their parents[8] and joining the neoliberal race to the bottom facing a bleak horizon with few opportunities. It is that experience inherent to capitalism in crisis, which is causing young people to become anti-capitalist.

But ideas need form, and the form of ideas is organisation. The ruling class know this and they are organised in many forms. They hold the levers of power, and that means they can even fail upwards, such as in the case of Dido Harding because of the lack of strong campaigns to challenge them and the lack of leverage the working class movement currently has.

There is no prospective government who will try to change these fundamental conditions and so the only option is to make ourselves heard on our own terms.  It is only through solidarity to look after the people suffering from the cutting edge of capitalism and by taking collective action on issues that we can create the new organisations of community power we need, and educate people about socialist alternatives in practice. Otherwise we let the ruling class carry on without opposition and regard for the needs of working people.

The YCL is committed to building this power, and through it educating people about the failures of capitalism and equipping them with the tools to understand our world and more importantly how to change it. Given the governments latest announcements it looks like we’ll need to step up to make sure more people can access an education that the Tories are trying to deny them as our priorities are empowering and organising the working class, students and all.

Daragh O’Neill


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/02/covid-cases-among-secondary-school-aged-children-rise-in-england

[2] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/schools-england-anti-capitalist-materials-a4557461.html

[3]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19roundup/2020-03-26#infectionsurvey

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-schools-reopening-boris-johnson-starmer-teachers-unions-covid-a9684511.html

[5] https://twitter.com/keir_starmer/status/1294885867321004032?lang=en

[6] https://ucu.org.uk/article/10972/UCU-attacks-Matt-Hancocks-suggestion-that-university-students-could-be-behind-second-Covid-wave

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-schools-reopening-boris-johnson-starmer-teachers-unions-covid-a9684511.html

[8] https://www.ft.com/content/81343d9e-187b-11e8-9e9c-25c814761640

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