Over 50,000 university, school and college students took to the streets of London on November 10th to protest against the cuts in education; the Browne review’s proposed increase in tuition fees, the cutting of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the endorsement of schools to convert to the Academy status, and other such draconian cuts deceptively proposed ‘necessary’. November 24th saw more demonstrations across the country; thousands walked out of lessons or occupied lecture halls across Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Leeds, Bristol, Brighton, Sheffield, Cambridge and Durham, amongst others. Most strikingly, this movement has seen large numbers of school and college student participation. Yet the mobilisation of this layer has been spontaneous, without leadership. The next step is for the students to organise!
The advantages inside university campuses are apparent. The ability to form societies, live in close proximity, and to debate and participate in student union meetings allows university students to have the platforms and communication to consolidate and express their views. With constant online communication, university students are able to frequently contact each other in campuses up and down the country, enabling them to quickly and effectively convey developing conditions and organise demonstrations.
Secondary Schools are often considered to be too diverse and the students too naïve to provide a successful means of organising the youth. The spontaneous movement of the school students in the past week shows that if anything, it is that these students are the most militant and ready to fight. Enthusiasm and good intentions are, however, wasted without organisation.
The national day of action on November 24th could have been twice as big if the National Union of Students (NUS) had given the lead and organised for the day. This shows the advantage of organisation, and the importance of the NUS. However, the NUS leadership has not shown the necessary organisation in secondary schools and colleges. They have failed to strategically co-ordinate students in recent times, and the only means of recruiting to the union has been non-political, i.e. brandishing student discounts. It is for this reason that school and college students should take up the initiative to organise themselves.
The key advantage of organising unions in the school and colleges for school students is united action. Otherwise student activity will remain ad hoc, unplanned and only joined by those students ‘in the know.’ The secondary school students must organise their own unions to encompass the largest layers of secondary school and college students in the fight against cuts.
Where to Begin?
Discussion groups with even just three or more people during a lunch break, or after school, are a great way to start and a first step toward organisation. In Brentwood, Essex, a discussion group within St. Martin’s school reached a peak of 30 members in the sixth form. From this, friends in neighbouring schools could be contacted, or other schools could be leafleted, to promote other discussion groups and student unions to be set up.
With other schools beginning to organise in a local area, meetings and discussions with the public will help to establish a greater student base in towns or cities. Appealing to teachers unions such as the National Union of Teachers (NUT), or the public sector unions such the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) or even the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) by contacting local representatives will help to create student-worker solidarity and give school students a stronger identity nationwide.
Similarly, contacting the societies and student unions at universities themselves will create a dialogue between local school, college and university students which can empower the student movement in its entirety.
The advantage of organisation is first and foremost united action. For that reason we must build student organisations in our schools and colleges. However, we should also seek affiliation to the National Union of Students and fighting for better FE student representation and organisation nationally. In this way we can build a united student movement, linking up with the wider labour movement against the coalition cuts.
Through experience we can provoke the very same debate and activism which has been suppressed over the years by the complacency of the NUS leadership. It is essential that school students participate in agitating and invigorating the working class movement.
For a mass movement of workers and students to fight the cuts!
School students must get organised to help build the fightback!