In reponse to a request from Ian Terrel to comment on the changing role of Teaching Assistants I wrote the following:
I think all of this needs to be understood within the wider context of the role of education within society.
The 1880 Education Act made attendance at school compulsory for children up to the age of 10. This was increased to fourteen in the 1918 Education Act as part of the reconstruction legislation promised by David Lloyd George during the First World War.
So the leaders of advancing capitalist economies such as Britain had decided as a matter of policy that increasingly sophisticated industrialisation needed an educated working class, and after a few decades it started to happen.
Then in 1979 Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) came to power with an agenda to reverse a whole raft of social policy. Public spending cuts, attacks on trades unions and increasing unemployment levels all helped to reduced the value of educated workers. The idea of an educated overall population had, in the view of the ruling class, become a luxury which they no longer felt they could afford.
So finally, after a few years of testing the water and finding the teachers’ unions somewhat spineless, the 1988 Education Reform Act cynically planted the seeds of destruction. The reforms were aimed at creating an education ‘market’ so that schools were competing against each other for ‘customers’ (pupils), and that bad schools would lose pupils and close, leaving only the good schools open. This had a devastatingly demoralising effect on school staff, and the inspired vocational teachers left the profession in droves, to be replaced by itinerants, incompetents, clock watchers and petty social climbers.
Following the 1997 General Election, the Labour Party gained power in central government. But “New Labour”‘s political ideology meant that most of the changes introduced by the Conservatives during their time in power stayed in place. Despite pledging to pour resources into “education, education and education” the imposition of innappropriate management techniques taken from manufacturing industry resulted in an overwhelming deluge of targets, planning, quotas and quality control measures burying teachers under a mountain of paperwork from which they can only emerge by writing downright lies.
So now we have a situation where our schools are being crushed by two opposing pressures. The superficial political drive to increase the appearance of meeting higher and wider education goals on the one hand, and an economic pressure to squeeze budgets (capping ) in a situation where there is no room to manoevre due to the high proportion of costs taken up by teaching staff’s wages.
This is the background situation into which the new styled Teaching Assistants are suddenly appearing centre stage, in front of the whiteboard – with no nationally negotiated wage scales, on short term contracts, pro rata, term time only. In other words for as little as one third of the cost of the legacy teaching professionals.
But even if the government wants to turn the majority of schools into child minding institutions, with a just a few good schools for the elite they still need people who are capable of keeping a classful of rowdy, bored kids – hyped up by TV, computer games and junk food – in some sort of semblance of order. That’s where the training and personal development skills are going to have to bear fruit soon, otherwise the plan to reduce the number of expensive teachers will keep getting put off. There is also a great irony in the plan, one which will dig its own grave – as the newly created army of Teacher replacements are drawn from the same estates as the communities in which the schools are situated. Without any of the terms, conditions and perks of the old middle class teachers, TA’s will start to build their own collective consciousness as a major force within the education system, overcoming the problems of regionalism and multiple unions to build a national solidarity. Increasingly, the conclusion will be drawn that they are being severely ripped off – action demanded. In the past, collective action was largely inhibited because the old teachers, who imagined that their interests aligned with the pillars of society, were easily confused by the illusion of conflicting loyalties.
“Isn’t it terrible, but i don’t agree with doing anything about it because going on strike only harms the children’s education”
will be replaced with:
“£8 an hour to stand in for teachers, with no job security, holiday pay or training – that’s just taking the piss that is”
“If the system can’t afford a decent education for everybody then we can’t afford to keep the system.”