#ALevels2021Strike – interview with an A-Levels striker
A-level students have announced school and college strikes taking place around the country next week. This is in response to government plans for students to sit their exams as usual despite, in many cases, losing months of education time as a result of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Socialist Alternative is actively supporting the student strikes, and discussed the movement with Aaisha, one of the organisers.
Last weekend, we saw school students protesting in London around next year’s A-level exams. Can you tell us more about what the main issues for students expecting to take their exams next year are?
The government has told us that we have a fair playing field, and they have also told us we are old enough to motivate ourselves to work and study. But they have completely ignored the reality of the issues that have been caused due to the lockdown.
Some people have had teachers teaching them every lesson, but on the other hand some of us have only had photocopies from textbooks to work through on our own. For a lot of us, this will mean our grades will take a hit if we have to take the normal exams. Especially for working class and BAME students, there is the potential for their grades to be affected much more badly in comparison to other students.
So far, students have organised public statements, petitions and protests against the government’s plans. How has the government responded so far?
The government has done very little in response. Today they gave a statement saying they are considering delaying the exams until late July 2021. But this would not be a real solution – we have had 4 months of no teaching, so shoving exams on us two months later is not going to fix the issue. I imagine instead pushing the exams back will actually have the effect of causing more problems for the exam board and for the universities.
What has been the approach from Keir Starmer’s Labour Party? How have they responded to the current plans?
Starmer has agreed to the government’s proposal of delaying exams. Aside from not being a real fix, this also doesn’t address all the other problems people have had to face. I think they have forgotten that teachers are people too – they have a life outside of teaching. Forcing them to take on the extra work well into their summers is unfair on them as well. Unfortunately, their approach has been mostly in line with the Conservatives. A few people like Jeremy Corbyn and Zarah Sultana are the only MPs that have really spoken out about it so far.
What are the next steps for the movement of school students? What kind of action are you organising to continue fighting back against the government’s plans?
We have decided to go on strike until the government meets the demand to draw up some form of satisfactory emergency plan. At the moment there is a real lack of clarity. Robert Halfon, the Tory MP has said there is a ‘50-50 chance’ of exams going ahead next year, and at the same time, they are saying they could delay our exams. We really don’t know where we stand at all right now.
We will be holding strikes and protests from Monday 7th September at a number of schools and colleges. We are encouraging students not to go into school on these days. Some students will have mocks on some of those dates, so we are encouraging them to go in on those particular dates, and instead to choose their own strike dates themselves.
(A list of protests organised so far is as follows:)
London – Parliament Square
Leeds – Millennium Square
Manchester – St Peter’s Square
Bristol – College Green
Birmingham – Victoria Square
Cornwall – Fleming Quay
Coventry – Outside Ofqual offices
Leicester – Clock tower
You’ve reached out to some of the education unions as well. Can you tell us more about why you’ve done that and what role the unions can potentially play?
We are hoping for the unions to help support our struggle. There are a lot of different issues and struggles going on right now, and we need a united approach and a general consensus to be able to fight and to get what we want. We hope the unions can help to promote and support our strikes, and to boost our message, because we need to convince other students to support the strike.
So far we have reached out to the National Education Union and NASUWT (the two main education unions), as well as particular activists in the NEU. We also plan to speak to the NUS (National Union of Students).
What should school and college students do in their areas to help support this movement?
If they want to get organised, they should get involved and take part in the strikes and protests. Speak to your classmates and help organise more protests and strikes. You can also sign the NEU’s petition, and follow our social media to stay updated.
Read Socialist Alternative’s latest article on the strikes, and how we can fight to transform our education system