Education is under attack and it’s time to fight back

After a year in which knowledge and expertise have been trampled upon by politicians, the UCU general secretary says the FE sector has to blow its own trumpet
10th February 2017, 12:00am
Magazine Article Image
Sally Hunt

Share

Education is under attack and it’s time to fight back

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/education-under-attack-and-its-time-fight-back

Make no mistake, the very essence of education is under attack. After Brexit came Donald Trump's victory, cementing what has been called the "revolt against expertise". As former education secretary Michael Gove put it: "The country has had enough of experts." Hasn't it?

Speaking as the proud general secretary of a union 100,000 experts strong, including 30,000 working in further education, you would expect me to disagree with that - and I do. University and College Union (UCU) members are part of a sector that, for all its troubles, supports more than 2.7 million people every year in improving their lives.

It is the sheer breadth of what FE still provides, even after six years of cuts, that takes the breath away. Everything from helping prisoners in jail to teenagers grappling with life skills or A levels, apprenticeships or language skills. The student body includes 100,000 people over 60, with around 25 per cent from ethnic minorities.

So we do have a lot to be proud of. But the fact remains that, with education being belittled by some politicians and its power to change lives being downplayed, those of us who believe in the transformative qualities of education need to start fighting back.

Three ways to be part of the response

This is where UCU's fourth Cradle to Grave conference, which takes place in London tomorrow, comes in. Each of the event's previous iterations has dealt with important matters but none feel as vital as the challenges of today.

In a society where experts and knowledge have gone out of fashion, we need to think about our response as educators. Here are three ways in which I believe FE staff can be part of that response.

First, start with the evidence and be positive. Two of the guests at our conference, Rob Smith and Vicky Duckworth, have created an incredible project for UCU called FE Transforms, which uses testimony from students to make the case for FE. Their brilliant work is enormously inspiring and has been praised by politicians as diverse as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative skills minister Robert Halfon.

This shows that the case for FE is better made when we remember that those who gain are real people, rather than just statistics.

The case for FE is better made when we remember that those who gain are real people, rather than just statistics

Second, present arguments for real reform. Nobody opposes the focus on apprenticeships, but with 1 million adult learners lost since 2009 we must remind government that the sector is about more than that.

FE should be for those who want to learn English so they can get a job. It should be for those who need to learn new skills, too. And it should provide an alternative pathway into higher education for those who missed the boat first time.

Third, when faced with post-truth politics, we must continue to empower our students to think critically. The evidence shows that the better educated someone is, the less likely they are to find diversity threatening, the more likely they are to be able to deal with change and the less susceptible they are to siren voices such as those of Trump and Nigel Farage.

After a year in which knowledge and education have somehow become dirty words in the political discourse, we need to arm ourselves with the arguments, get out there and make the case.

After all, as Gove and others should know, there is only one thing more expensive than education and that is ignorance.


Sally Hunt is general secretary of the University and College Union

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters