England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

After the A-level marking victory: Only organising can defend education – #ALevel21Strike

Over recent weeks college students got organised across the country to beat back the elitist marking algorithm, winning the demand for teacher assessments. Now, students involved in the #ALevel21Strike have been organizing to demand real clarity on the situation of those in Years 11-13. So far, Ofqual and the government have failed to explain how the A-level qualification process will be run. And while students have had no face-to-face teaching hours under lockdown, signs point to them forcing us to take the same exams as before. This will cause us inevitable stress and will have a damaging effect on our results if action is not taken right now. 

#ALevel21strike have now made a list of demands in response. They say that the A-Level syllabus must be reduced in line with the limited teaching. Questions have been placed on the suitability of the exam model, with the organisers demanding a heightened emphasis on coursework, along with more guidance for UCAS applications and an automatic re-sit option for all students who believe that the pandemic and lockdown has negatively impacted on their grades. 

Class issue

As the campaigners have pointed out on their website, “No open days have led to students blindly applying to a university in a city they’ve never been in close proximity to, disproportionately affecting the working classes.” 

Johnson’s abject mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated class inequalities. Some students from working class backgrounds, for instance, will be unable to work from home due to a lack of technology and a lack of quiet space, making the attainment gap much worse. This is why our movement has to also fight for policies to address these issues, such as: 

  • Public funding for extracurricular support, along with investment into free public spaces where students can go to study. We could fight for funding to re-open youth community centers, to create a safe and secure learning environment.
  • Funding for schools and colleges, reversing cuts so that free laptops and tablets can be made available to aid in learning. 
  • Providing mental health support. Counseling should be made available in every school and college, along with education on mental health issues.

Tories not to be trusted 

Student Socialist Alternative fully supports the demand from both the National Education Union and #Alevel21Strike for a mass consultation on next year’s A-Level processes. But we also need to remember that this is a government that we should never have any faith in. Alongside the consultation, we will need to set up bodies to hold them to account. 

Bodies made up of representatives of school workers’ unions and students should be set up as part of the process of negotiating how our A-levels will be dealt with in the coming years and beyond. Steps towards this could be taken by organising conferences of college students, youth strikers and education union activists to plan out the fight and to discuss what a radically transformed education system could look like.

If the Tories fail to provide for us, we need to be ready to take matters into our own hands, running the qualifications process ourselves. Only democratic control by students, workers and parents would successfully reflect our educational needs – not a government that has been proven not to care. 

This will mean building our movement for education justice from the bottom-up. What the victory over the grading system showed was that when we get together and fight, we can win. This is why organising groups must be set up in each college to take the struggle further. Supporters of Socialist Alternative in the education unions will be arguing the case for this and raising the need for teacher/staff solidarity with the #Alevel21Strike demands.

Socialist education needed

This movement will need to be sustained if it is to deliver real results. This is not just about Covid, but is also about what sort of education system and society we want to live in.  

Education under capitalism reflects the norms and interests of the ruling elite, turning schools into sterile unaccountable grade factories. The exam system, while pretending it is about measuring our abilities, is actually about spreading out stretched resources that the ruling elite fails to give funding to. 

While we are treated like numbers on a screen, we know we are worth more than that. This is why it should not be capitalist governments that decide our future!

“The NEU is establishing a high level commission this year to scrutinise assessment which will give an important opportunity for school workers and students to come together to discuss what alternative there is to high stakes tests that are designed primarily to ration resources rather than objectively assess ‘ability’. But also a national day of action in the Autumn term could bring the anger and frustration out onto the streets in an organised way, and build on the momentum created by the victories scored over A Level and GCSE results.”

– James Kerr, school teacher and union activist, Lewisham


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