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The Crisis in Education

- who's in charge? -

22 October, St Cuthbert's Hall, Berwick upon Tweed

Years before Tony Blair promised to put ‘Education, education, education’ at the top of his agenda, our schools and universities have been in a state of flux. Now, with the possibility of enforced academisation in our schools and the increasing pressures on our further and higher education systems, the time is right for an informed discussion and consideration of the options we all face.

Our speakers:

Barbara Henderson                       The Academy School System

Dr Barbara Henderson is a published writer and former BBC journalist. She was chair and vice-chair of governors at two schools in Berwick: Tweedmouth Middle and Spittal First schools. During her spell at Tweedmouth (2010 - 13), she fought hard against a campaign to persuade the town's middle schools to join the then Berwick High School in pursuing academy status. Her two children were pupils at Berwick Academy - one is still there - and she has witnessed the reduction in standards and parental satisfaction since the school left the local education authority.

Northern N.U.T                               An Alternative Vision For Education 

Amy Hunt and John Sanderson
Amy Hunt is a Regional Officer for the National Union of Teachers, based in Gateshead. She works to support NUT members, school reps and local officers around the North East and Cumbria to resolve problems at work and to campaign to protect education.

John Sanderson is Secretary of the Mid-Northumberland NUT Association. John studied at Edge Hill College before completing a PGCE at St. John's, York. He has 30 years’ experience with SEN children in secondary schools, most recently at Ashington High School. He has been an active trade unionist throughout career, taking on more responsibility in recent times as school rep and area secretary. John is about to begin a three-month sabbatical from education and is keen to explore new avenues to actively engage teachers in defending the endless denigration of a noble profession.

UCU                                           Further Education

Regional Vice Chair, Richard Bathgate

Richard Bathgate studied in FE as an apprentice with the NCB and then gained an HNC and further qualifications. He took the position of Electrical Installation lecturer at Newcastle College in 2004 and became a union rep. In 2009 he moved to Gateshead College in the same capacity. In 2012 he was voted as union branch chair. Richard takes part in Continual Professional Development (CPD) every year to keep up to date with current trends in education and industry.

Lucy Parker film   

Lucy is a filmmaker whose research-led practice adopts and experiments with documentary methods when making work with a community. She has recently been to Berwick making a film "Persuasion" for the Film Fesitval.

Press Report by Rose Kay

Parental choice is a hollow phrase in Berwick where we have only one comprehensive secondary school.   There is anxiety amongst parents because the school’s Ofsted grade reports have dropped and one more poor report would lead to special measures. It is possible to look at the latest results on its website. The school’s strengths are outweighed by its list of “room for improvements”.

This seems to be a direct result of becoming an Academy. Its headteacher Alex Widdowson is not a teacher but an Accountant and the Management is not accountable to the Local Authority any more, but is effectively privatized, as are two thirds of secondary schools in England.  It was only due to sacrifices and pressure from parents that our two middle schools have not followed suit.

The national crisis in education was discussed at a recent Day School organized by Berwick and District Trades Union Council held in St Cuthbert’s Parish Centre. Speakers included two NUT (National Union of Teachers) representatives from Gateshead and Ashington.

The first of these, Amy Hunt stressed that educational changes need adequate funding and all pupils needs should be met, not only those at the top of the class.

John Sanderson challenged us all about the purpose of school education.  He has had 30 years of experience with SEN (special educational needs) children. He has concluded that passing exams and tests has become the “Holy Grail” but that employers want far different qualities from candidates. Creativity and curiosity as well as good communication skills and teamwork are more important than qualifications.  He also advised us to look at Berwick Academy’s website to find a list of its governors. It does not exist. 

He is very concerned about the mental health of youngsters which is spiraling out of control partly due to anxiety and referred us to the highly successful Finnish school system which is fully comprehensive with no testing until aged 16. He warned us about the arrival of GERM (global education reform movement) which is sweeping from the States and involves a global conformity and huge amounts of money that are milked from the privatized schools run by private monopolies.

A further talk in the afternoon was from Richard Bathgate, now a full time teacher at Gateshead College teaching electrical engineering.  He has found that the government is reluctant to fund colleges and there are disputes about a casual work force working zero hours contracts. Since 2009 the number of lectures have dropped and classes are much larger which could  affect safety. In contrast the higher management is overpaid.

During the open discussion after the talks difficulties were mentioned including that of finding suitable specialist teachers. Creative arts subjects are less favoured and the curriculum is narrowing.  All this is in contrast to private schools that continue to have favourable staff/pupil ratios and a variety of creative subjects available. 

Printed, Berwick Advertiser, 27th October, 2016 



In the evening Berwick Trades Union Council proudly presented:


Chicago: The Great Teachers' Strike

2012: As battle lines are drawn across the United States between the corporate elite and the mass of the population, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and their community allies joined together to fight for public sector education. Their demand was for an education that teaches children to think, create and challenge and not provide zombie labour for the profit machine.

Chicago tells the story of the CTU’s strike and explores their successful organising agenda that empowered their members and mobilised parents, students and the wider community. That agenda produced a strike vote of 98% on a 90% turnout, 9 days of mass pickets, creative sit-ins and demonstrations covering 840 schools across the city, and hundreds of thousands of vocal and active supporters.

In 2012 the CTU and their allies managed to stall the corporate onslaught and develop a fighting agenda demonstrating that another education system is possible. By weaving together music, song and inspirational video footage and interviewsChicago provides compelling lessons for both educational and broader public sector resistance here in the UK.



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