Chalk talk: Are we going to see a wave of student protests?
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Thursday 23 September 2010
Aaron Porter, the new president of the National Union of Students, has just notched up a redoubtable coup. He became the first president of the NUS for more than 40 years to be invited into the inner sanctum of Universities UK, the body that represents vice-chancellors, to talk at their conference.
The last time such an honour was bestowed on the NUS was in 1968 – the year associated with a massive wave of student sit-ins and protests across Europe. With former BP boss Lord Browne expected soon to recommend a hike in student fees as a result of his review into student finance, could history be about to repeat itself?
Porter, who has presented a most statesmanlike image since taking on the presidency, has not outlined any such plans so far. However, more militant students could set the ball rolling themselves – as happened in 1968.
One of the first to nail his colours to the mast in support of the Government's independent "free" schools plans was the author and journalist Toby Young. He is the mastermind behind a plan to set up a secondary school in Acton, west London, with every child expected to take a GCSE in Latin or classical civilisation. The "free" schools, to be run by parents, teachers, faith groups or charities, have emerged as the radical Right's solution to the problem of raising standards in schools.
It is intriguing because Young's father, Michael (later Lord) Young, was a radical of a different nature. A Labour life peer, he was widely credited with the authorship of the most radical socialist manifesto implemented in the history of the UK – that promoted by the Labour Party in 1945, which saw the introduction of the welfare state.
He did have one thing in common with his son: he was educated at a school which eschewed the national mould, Dartington Hall. But it was definitely more of a radically progressive school than one with a traditionalist bent. A case of not like father like son?
Talking about family matters, Rachel Wolf heads New Schools Network, the charity which helps groups planning to set up one of Education Secretary Michael Gove's new "free" schools, and has worked for him in the past.
So who did Gove turn to when he wanted someone to chair a government inquiry into education? Step forward her mother, Professor Alison Wolf of King's College London – just appointed to head an inquiry into vocational education.
The phrase "put the kettle on" has taken on a new meaning in education circles. Nowadays it is more likely to mean that a broadcast on education is featuring a contribution from the National Association of Head Teachers. The reason? Their new general secretary is 38-year-old whizzkid Russell Hobby.
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