Hackney College campaign builds toward protest

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Around sixty people attended a public meeting on Wednesday to discuss the campaign against plans to cut jobs and courses at Hackney Community College.

Senior managers at the college are proposing to make up to 55 teaching and support staff redundant, close courses, reduce the curriculum on offer and reduce the number of adult students who can enrol onto courses for next academic year.

Teachers from the college told the meeting their courses were over-subscribed and that success and achievement rates were high. They said students from the college did well, with many progressing to other courses, university or employment. Among the courses threatened with closure is the Access to Nursing programme, which received 160 applications for 21 places this year. The range of Access subjects has been cut back drastically over the years.

The basic reason for these closures is a £3.3 million cut in funding from the two main funding agencies — a point on which teachers said they were in agreement with college management.

Speakers said the campaign was about defending education for working class people. A campaign spokesperson said: “Let’s not be scared to say it: this is about defending our people.” A lot of people talked about the riots and the rising unemployment in the area. Another speaker said the cuts were part of the government’s attempt to undo the post-war settlement of a mixed economy and a welfare state.

Later in the meeting people discussed the college’s ‘downward spiral’, saying cuts would not reverse but exacerbate that trend.

One speaker referred to the failure of the cuts agenda at a national level, pointing to the election of Francois Hollande as president of France as an example of a different approach.

One of the college’s governors (a Labour councillor, no less) addressed the meeting but was met with laughter and incredulity as he tried to take credit for the Government’s U-turn on funding for courses in English as a Second Language (ESOL) last summer, forgetting to mention the hugely popular and successful campaign by ESOL teachers and students.

Ian Ashman, the college principal, addressed the meeting and there followed a dialogue between him and various staff members challenging his rationale for the cuts. Teachers from other colleges disputed his argument that the cuts were inevitable and unavoidable. They pointed to the approach of City and Islington College, which despite the constraints resulting from government cuts to Further Education funding had invested a lot of money in new courses and invigorated existing ones, often showing a willingness to take financial risks. Hackney Community College, by contrast, says the introduction of a student loan system for some adult education courses — which until now were funded by the government — means it must make cuts. It appears that Hackney stands alone in this position, which would imply that the management’s ‘realpolitik’ is in fact a cover for a lack of vision, imagination and risk-taking.

Efforts were made by the organisers for the meeting to spark wider participation in the campaign than those currently involved. The meeting took place in a community venue off campus. For part of the meeting people were invited to sit at tables with flip chart paper to write down their ideas, and Post It notes were placed on tables to encourage people to ask questions through the chair during the meeting. About half of those who spoke were women.

The meeting decided to build for the demo on Saturday 26th May, and to leaflet in Dalston and the Narrow Way in Hackney every Saturday at 12 midday, and then move on to visit shops, community centres, churches and mosques with the leaflet. Everyone is encouraged to get involved.

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3 Comments

  1. Teacher at Hackney Community College
    May 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm · Reply

    People came away from the meeting with a feeling that there was an alternative to the college’s cuts agenda. This now needs to reach a bigger audience. The meeting was clearly a success, but having been involved in organising it from the ‘inside’ of the college, there are several things we need to think about. These are the same questions which have partly informed our discussions around the formation of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative: how do we get new people – students, residents and teaching staff in this case – to start coming to meetings, or do we have to try something different? Do meetings always have to be a part of our modus operandi or should we try different things? How can we start transforming passivity into engagement and activity?

  2. Rachel
    May 20, 2012 at 9:53 am · Reply

    @teacher at hackney community college:

    I know what you mean regarding meetings. They do not tend to draw in “wide numbers” as we would like. However, how else can we realistically organise? I don’t have the answer either, but I can’t see it happening in any other way.

    • May 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm · Reply

      This is a problem I started thinking about as a result of an experience I had at Occupy Wall Street (OWS). A student of my old college staffs the people’s library. When I asked him if he did any organizing on campus, he said no because he “hated meetings.” There would be no place for him in any traditional “old left” organizations because most of what they do is put on meetings. However, at OWS he did not have to attend any meetings to be an activist and part of a struggle.

      My suggestion based on OWS experience is to draw students, teachers, and staff by doing creative things like an open mic/General Assembly outdoors during lunch if there’s a place people naturally congregate (like a park or quad), a festival of some type, guerilla theatre, regular and publicized tablings, or a sit-in/occupation. Meetings are usually in the evening so people have to make a choice to give up their spare time to do something political while these events can be held during the day when people are already on campus.

      Another idea would be to organize actions against the agencies/officials responsible for the cuts rather than the school administrators who are claiming their hands are tied.

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