THE TORY government is to blame for the suffering faced by university staff and students, the University College Union (UCU) has underlined.
Responding to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) student academic experience survey, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Both staff and students have suffered enormously this year.
‘The fault lies squarely with government ministers and university vice-chancellors who pushed ahead with a reckless reopening of campuses for in-person teaching and ‘blended learning’ at the start of the academic year, ignoring warnings from university staff and the government’s own scientific advisors.
‘More than four-fifths of university and college staff have struggled with an increased workload and poor mental health during Covid, and almost two-thirds have been unhappy with the level of support from their employers.
‘A failure by government to underwrite the sector led to vice-chancellors mis-selling students “Covid-secure campuses” amid notions they could have a relatively normal university experience in a global pandemic.
‘University staff have struggled to pick up the pieces.
‘The government must never again let market forces push managers into prioritising university finances, and risking the health and safety of staff, students and the wider community.
‘We urgently need to move to a publicly funded model for higher education so student and staff wellbeing is protected.’
Meanwhile, the UCU criticised a report by the Education Select Committee, branding it a ‘weaponising of educational inequalities’ after authors claimed use of the term ‘white privilege’ was a factor in low levels of educational attainment amongst white working class pupils.
Calling for more investment in education to tackle disadvantage, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘All children deserve to succeed, but this report will be remembered for its divisiveness and for what looks and smells like a weaponising of educational inequalities to suit a different agenda.
‘Entrenched poverty, devastating cuts to early years support and schools funding, thousands of job losses in further education, and a university system that burdens students with debt are the places where the committee and government should be looking, rather than diverting attention away from the unavoidable truth that Conservative government policy is responsible for holding all working class communities back.
‘We need to see massive investment in education to help tackle disadvantage and MPs need to join with us in demanding the rebuilding of our further education colleges after years of neglect, and for the replacing of the punitive university tuition fees system with a publicly funded model.
‘Alongside this, we need to see huge investment from government in creating high-quality jobs, so that when working class people enter the job market, they can earn decent wages.’
Labour’s Diane Abbott has slapped down the notion that white working class pupils are being held back due to ‘woke’ notions of ‘privilege’.
Speaking in an interview on Sky News, Abbott dismissed the notion that concerns over ‘white privilege’ were preventing white working class children from achieving in life.
‘The concept of white privilege has led the education authorities to systemically neglect this large cohort,’ interviewer Murnaghan said referencing the Education Committee’s report.
Abbott snapped: ‘That is complete nonsense. There have been problems with working class children in areas, coastal towns, run-down areas, and so on. But what you have to remember is that is a group of wholly Tory MPs.’
The former Shadow Education Secretary continued: ‘Not a single Labour member of the Committee would sign this report because it cherry-picked the data. And it is just playing culture wars with education. Not a single Labour member would sign it.
‘It is a group of Tory MPs and they are playing politics with education.’
She added: ‘Instead of looking at things like funding, how we get more teachers, more male teachers in the classroom and so. They are talking nonsense about white privilege.
‘I have never heard an educational specialist talk about white privilege as a serious concept in relation to why white working class children fail.’
Meanwhile, Labour accused the government of already failing to live-up to their promise of a ‘tutoring revolution’ as new figures reveal their tutoring programme will reach less than half of pupils on free school meals next year.
The Conservatives’ flagship National Tutoring Programme is projected to reach just 43% of pupils on free school meals – or 8% of all school pupils – next year, undermining promises from the Education Secretary that a ‘tutoring revolution’ would enable pupils to catch-up from the impacts of the pandemic.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green MP, described the plans as a ‘pitiful’ response for children who have missed an average of 115 days of in-person school.
Labour has expressed concern about the repeated failures of the government’s tutoring plans which include:
- The current tutoring programme reaching just 1 in 100 school pupils, while the promised expansion would see children receiving less than an hour of tutoring a fortnight across the next school year.
- Randstad, a multinational human resources company, will deliver the programme next year but with a contract worth £37 million less than the government originally proposed, prompting fears Ministers are compromising on quality to cut costs.
l A quarter of a million children in England missed school last week because of Covid infections, self-isolation or school closures, making it the most disrupted week since schools fully reopened in March and prompting calls for pupils to be vaccinated.
The upsurge has been most marked in northern centres such as Oldham, where Covid-related absences in schools are more than double the national rate. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that self-isolation rules for children needed to be reformed to avoid further disruption to their education.
The national figures from the Department for Education (DfE) showed that one child in every 30 at state school was out of the classroom on 17 June, including 9,000 pupils with confirmed Covid-19 cases, 16,000 with suspected cases and more than 7,000 whose schools had shut entirely because of Covid outbreaks.