Organising for No Going Back: Fighting for control of education under lockdown

A UCU Left Open Webinar 

Register here

Watch this space for speaker updates.

The latest lockdown has been forced on the Tory government against their will. Just a day after proclaiming that schools were safe, Johnson was forced by the teachers’ unions to heed the warnings of scientists and close schools and colleges.

There are huge lessons for UCU in the successful organising tactics of our sister union NEU. The battles are not over. College and university managers will want to misuse the exemptions in the rules to force some staff to continue unsafe teaching which is not essential. 

More widely, they will want to maintain control over staff and established pedagogical norms even while they are teaching online from home.

The pandemic has exposed the crisis in education from top to bottom. It gives us the chance to end exams-based teaching give more power to teachers to develop more innovative and productive ways of learning and to decolonise the curriculum. But this won’t happen without a fight.

Come to this open webinar to hear speakers on these issues and discuss how we can take control of our work.

Busting 3 myths about the ‘superiority’ of exams

It is time to abandon our obsession with exams being the best form of assessment


Education secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement two weeks ago that GCSE and A-level exams would be cancelled this summer has rightly been welcomed by many within education. Teachers also welcomed his statement that we should “trust in teachers, rather than algorithms”.  Indeed – great news. Last year’s exam fiasco with Ofqual’s attempt to grade students according to an algorithm, rather than teacher assessment, shone a light on the inadequate and discriminatory assessment system currently in place.

Although, in the same speech, Williamson’s call to trust teachers revealed itself to be superficial with another call for parents to contact Ofsted if they feel that their children are not getting the education they deserve. Predictably, this backfired with Ofsted instead receiving messages from thousands of parents expressing thanks for all the work teachers have done.

Not all exams were cancelled, though. Btec exams were not, revealing once again the elitism within the exam system. The DfE clearly forgot about these exams. Btecs, after all, are not GCSEs or A levels – Btecs are for someone else’s children.

Then the government did half a U-turn, placing the decision to cancel them with colleges. It is shocking to hear from the Association of Colleges that a significant proportion of colleges refused to cancel despite infection rates surpassing those of March/April last year and the number of deaths reaching over 80,000. Reading college leaderships’ attempts to justify their decision was torturous and embarrassing. Apparently, it’s about placing the students at the “centre of the learner journey”….  

Speaking in Parliament, Williamson stated that: “Exams are the best form of assessment.” Of course, he offered no evidence for this statement. He clearly believes that he does not need to because it is overwhelmingly accepted that exams are synonymous with education and without them the standard of young people’s education would deteriorate rapidly.

Williamson has now written to the head of Ofqual urging the watchdog to incorporate externally set and assessed “tasks or papers”. We need to ensure that the consultation does not turn this into mini-exams.

In April last year, I wrote that it was time to close the exam factories and introduce new qualifications driven by teacher assessment.

Around the same time, the UCU put forward an alternative to exam-based qualifications based around project-based learning. 

Surely, as we enter our third lockdown and all teaching is moved online and exams are cancelled once again, it is even more important that we dispense with the obsession that exams are the most superior assessment model.

What are the main arguments in support of exams being the most superior assessment model?

Misconceptions about exams

First up is the idea that exams are more rigorous. Anyone who has taught syllabuses that are dependent on exams and ones that are dependent on project-based assessed learning will say that exams are a lot less rigorous. Teachers are forced to teach to the exam. Managers attempt to shoe-horn practitioners into teaching the same scheme of work at the same time to ensure compliancy, stifling any attempt at creativity within the classroom.  All of which leads to the stifling of critical thinking. 

Second, exams stop cheating. Teacher assessment of project-based work, the argument goes, is open to teacher prejudice and cheating. Parents write their children’s work for them and students plagiarise work. The vast majority of young people want to do well at school and college. They want to learn how to do the work themselves. When, as a result of the pressure to pass and avoid failing, which determines future life chances at 16, some students go online and cut and paste, it is not difficult for teachers to detect this. What this argument against teacher assessment really shows is that those who adhere to such a position don’t trust our staff or our students. Distrust is the foundation of the exam model.

Third, exams create a level playing field. This is clearly wrong on a number of levels. The algorithms that are put in place by awarding bodies build in inequality. It has been well documented that class, gender and race all impact on how well students do in an exam. Students from wealthier families can afford to pay the £40 an hour tuition fee to help get their child through an exam, but many cannot.

Exams not only bring down standards but they also raise significant mental health issues amongst young people. Suicide rates and self-harm rise dramatically during exam periods as young people’s anxiety rises as they fear failure. This is abuse.

The exam model does not even help the economic development of society. Countries in which there is less reliance on examinations within education have been more dynamic economically than the low-wage and precarious UK economy.

But exams have never been preferred because they raise standards, stop people cheating or create a level playing field.  They were introduced and are maintained to “educate” young people to accept that competition rather than collaboration is the natural order of things. 

As we await Ofqual’s guidelines on how this year’s exams will be assessed,let’s do all we can to ensure that the authorities do trust the teacher and not the algorithm, and campaign for a new education system where exams are consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Sean Vernell is further education committee vice-chair at the University and College Union

UCU Left statement on the current lockdown

Just one day after declaring that he had no doubt in his mind that schools were safe, Boris Johnson closed schools and colleges as part of another national lockdown. Johnson and the Tories have shown that despite 75,000 deaths from Covid-19 they were prepared to see tens of thousands more lose their lives in the pursuit of herd immunity and profits for the bosses as workers were forced back into workplaces. 

It is clear that the government was forced into this belated action by the NEU schoolteachers union, which organised to ensure that most primary schools would not reopen to all pupils whatever the government said. This represents another impressive victory by our sister education union over a government that has repeatedly dragged its feet over action necessary to combat the virus and has consistently put the profits of bosses ahead of our class’s safety. 

This result was achieved by the NEU taking the bold strategic decision to organise collectively around health and safety. They wrote to all schools demanding they close or face the threat of members unilaterally deciding to work from home. They wrote to members calling on them to join the campaign and add their voices to the submission of Section 44 letters under the 1996 Employment Rights Act. Their success was not due to having friendly employers, as our General Secretary claimed this week. The corporations which run academy chains are no more sympathetic to trade unions than those running FE college groups. It was achieved by breaking through the worry and hesitation we all have as individuals and leading a collective stand.

At New City College, London, where management were trying to force staff to go in to teach this week, the branch organised a 200 strong union meeting and agreed to submit Section 44 letters. This courage paid off. Before Johnson eventually announced the third lockdown management met union officers and agreed not to force anyone back onto site.  

The fact that nurseries remain open even under this lockdown proves the role of trade unions in forcing the government’s hand. Nurseries are vectors of transmission of the virus into the wider community, but because nursery workers are generally not unionised, Johnson can get away with keeping them open to allow parents to work. Only collective organisation and action by workers can ensure that the health and safety of ordinary people is taken seriously.

Although FE colleges have been closed as a result of Johnson’s U-turn, there is little change to the situation for universities where online teaching has already become the norm. The exemptions for particular subjects remain, and it is around how these classes are delivered that there will be battles. 

Only absolutely essential and unavoidable face-to-face teaching should be taking place in universities and colleges, and where it is we must be insisting it is covered by updated risk assessments that address the fact that the new variant of the virus is 70% more transmissible. It is a legal requirement for employers to update risk assessments in light of changing risks, and no education worker should step into a classroom, shared offices, or student-facing services such as libraries, without appropriate measures relating to travel to and from the campus, ventilation, PPE, mask wearing in class, testing etc. being in place for the new variant.

There will also be battles over the nature of the work we do from home. The pandemic has exposed all the flaws of our education system from the disastrous marketised funding model in HE to the reliance on exams in FE. The crisis gives us an opportunity to fight for control over all aspects of education. 

We need to be resisting management attempts to reach into our homes to control our working schedules, while demanding that we have the necessary equipment to do our jobs effectively and safely. There must be clear reductions in workloads and recognition of the inequalities of homeworking through the use of equality impact assessments.

We need to use the space opened up by the cancellation of exams and the opportunities provided by online forums to push for more creative, innovative and exciting ways to teach and learn. For too long we have had to put up with governments and managements telling us how to teach and what should and should not be on the curriculum. We have had to endure impositions and inspections based on arbitrary metrics. In reality, it has always been staff who have known what is best for the educational and intellectual development of our students.

We also need to organise with students to ensure that managements cannot pit students against staff. This means defending students’ demands for rent rebates, reductions in fees and for additional support to make on-line learning effective. We have to recognise that whilst in-person provision might be preferable the safety of all comes first.

We should build on the brilliant victory by NEU and begin to assert a different agenda for post-16 education, one based on meaningful learning and genuine intellectual inquiry, which properly addresses the issues raised by Black Lives Matter and other liberatory movements and treats students as equal partners in the educational process rather than ‘customers’ who can be milked for every possible penny in fees and rents.

Alongside defending jobs and fighting for decent pay, these are the issues that our union should now be taking up. The NEU has again provided a fantastic example to us of how to use technology to organise effectively and win. The holding of a mass members meeting of 400,000 and the recruitment of 14,000 new members in just 48 hours shows the potential that exists for trade unions that act in bold and decisive ways.  UCU nationally has rightly campaigned for remote learning to be the default position for colleges and universities. What the mass member meetings will do to is to give confidence to members at branch level to campaign to implement this demand if management fail to agree.

This is  why UCU must follow suit with mass reps/members meetings to create a movement that fights for control of education by its staff and insists that there is no going back to the pre-pandemic business-as-usual model.

The pandemic: A critical point – we must act to save lives

Covid-19 in the UK

2021 has started where 2020 finished – in chaos, confusion and fear for millions of people. What we do now will determine the future for our students’ education and our members lives.

It is shocking that the death rate has reached over 70,000 and daily contagion rates continueto surpass those reached in March/April last year. Thousands have died unnecessarily due to the government’s refusal to listen to the advice of scientists and education unions but instead put the needs of profit before people’s lives.

Whilst the news of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine availability is welcome, the short to medium term prospects are still ones in which many people will contract the virus and die from it unless strict safety plans are implemented.

The government’s latest last-minute announcement on schools, colleges and universities has once again led to confusion and despair amongst all those who work in the sector.

SAGE (government scientific advisors) leaked minutes from Dec 22nd make it clear that they (the scientists) believe keeping schools open will allow transmission rates to rise:

It is highly unlikely that measures with stringency and adherence in line with the measures in England in November (i.e. with schools open) would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant. R would be lower with schools closed…’

Once again, the government ignored their own scientific advisors’ advice. For full leaked SAGE minutes click here.

The government’s plans do not go far enough to protect lives. If they had followed the science and UCU advice we would be in a much better position to control the spread of the virus and therefore ensure a lot less disruption to the education of our students in the last few months.

Unfortunately, they didn’t and now, once again, we will be moving more students onto remote learning. Government ministers’ recent discovery that many young people can’t access remote learning due to poverty and therefore the best place for them is on site, beggar’s belief. A government that cut EMA, raised tuition fees and has watched food banks grow, now tells us that for our student’s sake they need to be taught face-to-face, clearly has no credibility.

It is a shame that the government’s argument too often found an echo within the sector from people who should have known better.

We would all prefer to be back in the classroom, but it’s not about what we prefer it is about what is safe.

In March last year many employers worked with UCU in the colleges to ensure mitigation measures were put in place. Unfortunately, from September onwards too many college leaderships moved away from collaboration with the unions and fought to implement a business-as-usual approach. When the second lockdown came in November and schools and colleges were not included college leaderships did very little to resist this irresponsible decision.  In fact, many moved to increase the amount of face-to-face teaching.

It was a serious mistake for government and the leadership of the sector not to move to online learning in November. If they had have done, we would be in a far better position now.

There are reports of some colleges preparing to bring in staff and students from this Monday to teach face to face which even the government are not arguing for! Let us be clear. It won’t be just the government that have blood on their hands – it will be college leaderships too if they continue with this negligent behaviour.

We hope the leadership of the sector recognises that we can’t rely on government to make the right choices when it comes to staff and students’ safety. Councils like Brighton and Hove and Birmingham have ignored government plans to keep their primary schools open.

We have to take control and act now to protect lives.

The government plan as it stands for FE:

From Monday 4th Jan preparations for mass testing for all staff and students and all teaching to move online.*

UCU have real concerns about testing is going to be carried out.  The lateral flow testing method that will be used is not always reliable. One report [see: Evidence summary for lateral flow devices (LFD) in relation to care homes – GOV.UK (] revealed up to 50% of true positive cases were not detected (and was dependent on the training and experience of the testers).

  • ‘A’ level students to be taught face to face from the 11th   Jan and everyone else from 18th Jan. This will do nothing to reduce the spread of the virus and will put staff lives at risk.
  • January Exams to go ahead as planned. This is scandalous. Many students will not be able to attend due to ill health or looking after family members who are ill.

What needs to be done:

  • All teaching to be moved online immediately except the children of Key workers and vulnerable students.
  • Remote learning to continue after the 18th Jan and remain until there is at least a 5-week continuous decline in infection rates.
  • All qualifications based on exam assessment to be scrapped and replaced with teacher assessment.
  • Flexibility must be introduced in how remote lessons are scheduled. For some students and staff keeping to existing timetables might work – for others it might not.
  • As front-line workers all FE staff to be prioritised to be vaccinated before any attempt to increase face-to-face teaching.

UCU must act now nationally.

The NEU nationally have recommended to their members that they should not return to work on Monday and move immediately to online learning.  200,000 people have signed the petition in support of this position already. Sign here to support our teachers. They have organised all members meeting were 100,000 teachers and support staff attended.

UCU has been right to campaign for remote learning to be the default position. We must now act collectively to force the government and our employers to protect staff and students lives. Of course, the new variant of the virus means that new risk assessments need to be reassessed.

However, this is only central if we agree that colleges need to continue a ratio of face-to-face and remote teaching. But we are not in this situation at this moment of time. All colleges must move to remote learning for the vast majority of teaching. There is no other way that we can keep our staff, our students and our communities safe from the virus.

UCU must not hesitate to make the same recommendations as the NEU. UCU must call an all members online meeting this week. UCU must, like the NEU, advise its members not to go into colleges and move all teaching online from Monday.

Also like the NEU, UCU must call upon its members to use Section 44 if employers refuse to move to remote learning. This is not the time to second guess what the legal ramifications of such a call may or may not have. Lives are at risk. FE has a much older workforce compared to other education sectors. Many are in their mid-50s and mid-sixties and many from BAME backgrounds – groups that are finding themselves more likely to be hospitalised by the virus compared to others.

On Tuesday London Region UCU has called an officers meeting to discuss what steps we need to take to protect lives. Vicky Blake will be one of the speakers. Click here to register.

The NHS is in crisis. Doctors are worried that they are moving towards a situation where they will have to decide who they save and who they don’t.

We must act now to save the NHS and lives.

Sean Vernell UCU Further Education Committee Vice – Chair.

*Except children of key workers and vulnerable students.

UCU motion: Act now to save lives


1)     Over 70,000 people have died and daily infection rates have surpassed those reached in March/April.

2)     Cases, admissions and deaths are surging at a time when hospitals are reaching or have passed capacity.

3)     All medical advice, including SAGE, believe hat colleges are sites of contamination and will spread the virus.

4)     The NEU call to advise their members not to return to work and move all teaching online.

5)     Government demands that all January exams to go head.


1)     The government have been irresponsible in their handing of the pandemic by refusing to follow the science.

2)      It is not safe to teach face-to-face in colleges when the infection and death rates are rising so rapidly.

3)     To protect staff, students and our communities remote learning is the only safe delivery model for all except vulnerable students and children of key workers.

4)     Government refusal to scarp exams and replace them with teacher assessment is unfair and will lead to students’ from low-income backgrounds being disadvantaged.

Resolves to:

1)     Call on management to move all teaching (except vulnerable students and children of key workers) online immediately and not to return to blended learning until there has been at least a five week decline in infection rates.

2)     Failure of management to implement the move to remote learning UCU advise all members to send in a Section 44 letter to management.

3)     Calls on UCU NEC to support the call to move to remote learning and support its members acting collectively to refuse to teach face- to -ace.

4)     Call on UCU to campaign to scrap all exams and replace them with teacher assessment.

5)     Send a message of solidarity to the NEU for  their stance in challenging the government to force education workers and students into unsafe schools.


UCULeft Pre-HESC Meeting

UCULeft Pre-HESC Meeting


7:00-8:30pm Monday 14 December

This is an open meeting to discuss motions submitted to HESC, taking place on 15th December, and provide UCU Left voting guidance. The discussion will be led by Marion Hersh and Sean Wallis. Please note, this is an open meeting, and all are welcome to attend.

Register here



Report from UCU Women’s Conference

Nita Sanghera

Nita Sanghera

We remembered Nita and shared impressions.  Saira Weiner, of Liverpool John Moores University proposed 30 seconds’ silence.

Employment issues

Kate Moran presented a summary of Maternity Action’s report on “Insecure Labour”, which includes powerful statements from union members, about the ways they are mistreated, ignored and neglected by their employers.  It is amazing how – although we’ve always known how precarious people feel when they are pregnant – we haven’t focussed on fighting for casualised workers who are pregnant.  It’s another case of intersectionality.  As there is with covid, there is also a strong link between all people with protected characteristics and precarious working conditions.

Feyzi Ismail, of SOAS, spoke so eloquently and clearly on the impact restructuring has on women, and on SOAS’ anti-casualisation campaign.  She is very keen that UCU identifies a case to support with our legal resources.

Black Lives Matter

Juliana Ojinnaka led an intensive discussion, in which three activists, all fairly new to their roles in UCU, talked about how they are affected by the BLM movement, how it is motivating them and how they are fighting for changes locally and nationally.  Sharon Clarke is a Prison educator from the West Midlands and spoke with tremendous fire; Themesa Neckles, of the University of Sheffield, spoke with real emotion about the difficulties faced by Black, Disabled, women; Naina Kent, our NEC rep for members working in Adult Education, gave us a clear, insightful picture of how we must not accept the tokenistic statements of various institutions, but demand to see results of new policies being put in place.

UCU delegate to the TUC

Sue Abbott gave a brief overview of her role as the delegate, elected from the WMSC.

Motion from the University of Leeds

There was time for us to discuss the motion, moved by Megan Povey, on “Caring responsibilities during the pandemic”, a very welcome and much-needed call for UCU to support branches to establish policies for safe, flexible working and no career detriment for workers who are also carers.

Honouring Nita Sanghera, our first Black Woman Vice President

Vicky Blake, Marian Mayer, Saira Weiner and Naina Kent gave us a picture of Nita, the fierce fighter against all oppression, and described how, in particular, she supported Stand Up to Racism and the UN Anti-racism Day demos.  Many ideas were suggested for honouring Nita at the Equality Confence  including to commemorate her with a Nita Sanghera block at the next UN Anti-racism Day demo.  Marian proposed a statement in the chat: “This conference recognises and honours the work of Nita Sanghera our first black woman VP.”, which was unanimously agreed.  We discussed how we can commemorate Nita permanently and agreed that this question must be raised at the plenary session tomorrow.  The Chair (Pura Ariza of Manchester Metropolitan University) advised that the question must also be discussed by some or all of the Equality Standing Committees when they next meet.


Finally, Anne Alexander, from the University of Cambridge, shared a petition, for solidarity with human rights and political activists in Egypt: and asked us to show our support for Fadila Makhloufi, a young feminist activist from Morocco, who is facing prosecution:


UCU Left Equalities Conference Q&A

End the Gender Pay Gap - protest in London, HE strike 2016    After (cropped)

Join our panel ahead of the UCU Equalities Conference. We will discuss the history and purpose of the Equalities strands, standing members’ committees, and conferences and how they relate to UCU’s NEC. We will have a panel discussion on the key issues for each of the conference strands, and time for Q&A from attendees. The meeting should be useful for first-time Equalities Conference delegates as well as those already engaged in this important work within the union.
The event takes place at 7:30 – 9:00 on Wednesday 2 December and will be chaired by UCU Left Chair, Bee Hughes (LJMU UCU). Register here.

The  panel includes:

  • Juliana Ojinnaka (Sheffield College UCU)
  • Deepa Driver (Reading UCU & USS Negotiator)
  • Saira Weiner (LJMU UCU)
  • Rhiannon Lockley (Birmingham City UCU)
  • Marian Mayer (Bournemouth UCU, National Pay Negotiator)
  • Peter Evans (South Thames College, UK FE LGBT+ NEC)
  • Elizabeth Lawrence (Yorkshire & Humberside Retired Members)  

Report from UCU Activists Conference and Emergency Student/Staff Assembly

UCU Solidarity Movement

A working document was created for the session.

Reports from conference / assembly:-

  • From Rent Strikes to Protests: Building Student Fightbacks
    Mattie & Molly chaired the student solidarity session where we heard from students organising around the UK in response to their appalling treatment by their unis and the government. Staff in attendance were inspired and heartened for their solidarity in our struggle for better, fairer, working conditions. The session enabled activists across the UK to share experiences and created a network for organising student resistance in the months and years ahead.
  • Safeguarding our pensions
    A session held on USS heard from a panel of speakers and contributors from the audience representing all the diversity of views within UCU. There was widespread consensus on the need for industrial action to defend the defined benefit scheme if the current valuation is not fundamentally altered.
    The workshop heard from current UCU negotiators Deepa Driver, Marion Hersh and Sam Marsh, the highly principled Trustee Jane Hutton, past negotiators Megan Povey and Carlo Morelli and influential pensions commentators Dennis Leech and Mike Otsuka.
    While details of the extent of employers’ willingness to challenge USS remains uncertain colleagues were reminded that talk of benefit reform means our forthcoming sector conference needs to develop a clear plan for action
  • Fighting Casualisation
    The Anti Casualisation section featured important contributions from the #CoronaContract and the Fractionals For Fair Play (FFFP) group and Christina Paine from the NEC. The well attended session covered the need to have focused demands amidst a context where staff on various forms of precarious contracts can easily be atomised and marginalised. The importance of organising around key issues in light of atomisation was also highlighted. Those key issues could form concrete demands: Permanency, anti-bullying, consistent pay, resisting stress and overwork. The amplification of structural inequalities that casualisation causes was also highlighted. The link between recruitment freezes the use of churn to perpetuate casualisation was made as well as the importance of anti-casualisation being a key part of the 4-Fights. On the back of the leverage provided by 4-Fights success stories and strategies to counter casualisation were shared. Christina spoke about work to bring all anti-caz campaigns together. Strategies include Branches interviewing casualised staff to gather grounded experience as well as the submission of collective grievances. As highlighted above, our demands should include: two year standard length contracts, an end to zero-hours contracts and the automatic implementation of the right to permanency after four years of FTC. There was a great sense of solidarity at the meeting as well as a recognition of just how long this fight has been going on and how acute the situation is. The importance of building student staff and cross union solidarity was discussed as well as the need for horizontal organising – delegates are keen to stay in touch and organise further meetings to share strategy, support and solidarity.
    The main conclusions were that (a) casualisation is a long term problem and it’s getting worse (b) we need to pressurise UCU to take this matter more seriously (c) we can’t wait for that so we also need to build separately to fight this.
  • Striking during Lockdown
    This session took a practical approach to sharing advice and strategy for successful industrial action during lockdown. First, speakers from Heriot-Watt UCU discussed their model for GTVO including some visual depictions of areas of focus such as Aims, Knowledge of Membership, Localised Framing of Issues and Vote Counting. Second, Heriot-Watt outlined some practical advice about managing the GTVO record of confirmed votes throughout the process. Thirdly, Mark Porter (Unite Convenor Speaker from Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick) shared insight from industrial action taking place during lockdown for a group of workers who have continued in-person work throughout. Finally, speakers from Brighton discussed ways to build the pressure of the campaign as soon as the ballot result is announced, before any action takes place, with a focus on using social media to engage students as early as possible. All materials mentioned above (and more!) available at
  • Fighting racism & decolonising the curriculum
    The workshop on decolonising institutions and racism was attended by around 30 people. There were contributions on the impact of BLM, George Floyd’s death in giving impetus and continuity to the struggles against racism in Britain and the push for the decolonisation of institutions and ridding the system of systemic racism. Contributions came from students and lecturers in HE and FE and from the Community: Selma James. This resulted in lively exchanges on the practicalities of decolonisation; questions were raised as to what is really meant by decolonisation? Does it mean deconstructing the teaching of Shakespeare for example? The importance of allies was raised. It was pointed out that most institutions are still operating business as usually with essentially what is a very Eurocentric curriculum even though these institutions had said that they would act on their institutions given the BLM, this has not happened. FE institutions are still haemorrhaging Black staff, lacking in recruitment of Black staff, and in both sectors and other areas of education, Black workers still face institutional racism, unequal pay, lack promotion and progression, face casualisation and are the first to be made redundant regardless of status. Decolonisation of institution has to have a global approach because the tentacle of British colonialism is all over the world. Britain was heavily involved in taking people as slaves from Africa to the Americas but far often this is not reflected in British history, the use of violence against colonial people, is glossed over. This is an uncomfortable view of race; we have to be taught how modern societies came about so that we do not repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Whose view point is being examined? Much of what we know is from the point of view of the victor not the victim, those with power, who have access to education. Minorities feel left out of history; this has an impact on self esteem, belonging, limits expectations and aspiration for Black people. Universities need to change in governance by staff and students. Universities are still complicit on continuing colonial practice through their investments. What is required is for Institutions to indicate what they are doing to decolonise their institutions – from curriculum through to staff promotion? How they are linking up with communities affected? What changes are taking place in terms of revising textbooks, overseas trips etc. There is a call by Black lecturers for UCU to take action to recruit, retain and progress Black members of staff across all sectors of education.

    Thanks to all those who contributed their reports for this summary.

UCU Activists Conference and Emergency Student/Staff Assembly



UCU Activists Conference and Emergency Student/Staff Assembly

10am Opening Plenary: Covid, Crisis and Education
  • Including speakers from iSAGE
11am Workshops (working titles) :
  • Fighting casualisation: organised by #CoronaContract and FFFP
  • Safeguarding our pensions: Deepa Driver hosts a chat show with Jane Hutton, Dennis Leech, Sam Marsh, Carlo Morelli and Megan Povey
  • Striking back under lockdown: organised by Heriot-Watt and Brighton UCU branches
  • FE Session: organised by and for FE UCU activists
  • Building a student fightback: organised by University of Manchester students in Occupation
  • Fighting racism & decolonising the curriculum: Black lives Matter isn’t just a slogan for our employers to piggyback on. In this break out hear from and contribute to a solidarity discussion for branch activists who seek to make real #BlackLivesMatter within our institutions and our union.
12pm  Final plenary: Students and Staff United – Emergency Student/Staff Assembly
  • Including UCU President Vicky Blake
👉 Register to attend:
👉 Facebook event:
👉 Twitter: @ucu_solidarity
Please sign up to the UCU Solidarity Movement Activist Conference and Emergency Student Staff Assembly

Following the brilliant victory against compulsory redundancies at Heriot-Watt University and the student occupation in Manchester, UCU Solidarity Movement has called this event to bring together UCU and student activists in the fight for education.

With the whole system increasingly in crisis, we are witnessing the re-emergence of a student movement against a marketised education system alongside a growing number of UCU branches balloting for action over unsafe workplaces and redundancies.

Please get your branch or committee to consider backing this conference by raising the model motion below.

MOTION: Support the UCU Activists Conference

This branch notes

  • that Covid-19 and lockdown conditions have not prevented UCU branches from organising online
  • that Further Education has not been permitted to switch to wholly online teaching and has seen Covid-19 cases rise
  • the success of industrial action ballots in stopping redundancies at Heriot-Watt University, and new ballots elsewhere opposing redundancies
  • growing student anger over dishonest marketing of “open” campuses, with initial protests turning into a rent strike movement
  • the impact of Black Lives Matter campaigns in wider society raising radical demands for access and decolonising curricula
  • the unfortunate postponement of UCU Congress
  • the success of the UCU Solidarity Movement, organised as a network of UCU branches, in bringing staff and student activists together

This branch resolves

  • to support the UCU Solidarity Movement activist conference and student/staff assembly on Saturday 28 November, to organise a delegation and to encourage members to participate. Registration details are here :



Coronavirus, Corbyn and class: We must act now to save lives

Boris Johnsons announcement of a four-week national lockdown in England is a testament to his and the governments total abject failure in dealing with the public health crisis. The figures that were given at yesterdays Downing Street briefing were truly shocking but not surprising. UCU and the NEUs response has been to call for the education sector to be included in the lockdown

The UK is the ninth country to reach over one million people who have contracted the disease. One in 100 households now has someone with the virus. The government’s scientific advisors, SAGE, have now predicted that the death rates will be higher than the lockdown in spring. According to Johns Hopkins University the UK has the fourth highest death rate per 100,000 in the world. The seven-day average of deaths at the end of October, according to government figures, has risen to 258. This figure is set to rise. 

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Historically, second waves (and third and fourth waves) of pandemics have usually killed more people than the first. In the cholera outbreaks of the 19th century, the third wave, coming several years after the first, killed more people than the original outbreak. It wasn’t until John Snow discovered a vaccine and the death toll threatened to impact on the development of the industrial revolution that government acted to stop the spread. The second wave of ‘Spanish Flu’ after the first world war killed more than the first. Then like now the government did not rush to put in place measures that could have protected people from the pandemic.

As predicted by many, the impact of this rise in infection rates on the NHS’s ability to cope this winter is catastrophic. Johnsons warning to us all when announcing the second lockdown that hospitals will have to choose who lives or dies was chilling and could have been avoided if Johnson had acted much earlier, as many had called for.

None of this needed to have happened. We did not need to be in this position where thousands more people will lose their lives. SAGE advised government over a month ago that the localised tier approach was not working and that a second national lockdown was necessary. It was the threat that SAGE would go public with this advice (and not just leak it) that finally forced the government to act. 

Johnson ignored their advice because of the pressure of big business and his backbenchers. The need to ensure profitability rather than save lives was the motivation behind his approach. For the government more deaths are a price worth paying. 

Every step of the way Johnsons initial strategies have made the spread of the virus grow faster. He bragged about shaking hands and adopted a herd immunity strategy, opposed wearing masks and lifted the lockdown too soon – eat out to help out’ and crucially the failure to organise a test and trace system that works. This is due to his obsession with awarding private companies the contracts costing billions of tax payers money. 

As with every pandemic the death toll does not fall evenly across society. It is those from the poorest backgrounds who are at most risk of dying from the virus. Those who live in the most overcrowded conditions, who have less healthy diets and who live the most stressful lives with long working hours in an attempt to make ends meet, are the most likely to die.

Doreen Lawrence’s report into Covid-19 and BAME deaths is a devastating indictment of this governments handling of the virus and reveals that it is racist to its core.

National unity’ points the way to the grave yard.

To save lives we need to act fast. The leadership offered by Keir Starmer has been woeful. His approach has been to do what he considers is best for the national interest, which of course means the interests of big business. The calls for national unity lead to putting profit before lives and undermine the working-class unity that is needed to save lives. 

Starmer’s craven support for the government’s approach, until very recently when opinion polls showed that a significant majority were for a national lockdown, has been to demonstrate that he can be trusted with looking after the economic leavers of power. The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party has nothing to do with antisemitism. Corbyn has opposed racism and antisemitism all his political life.  This attack on him is another by Starmer to send a clear signal to the employers that Sir Keir can be trusted. 

The attack on Corbyn is an attack on all those who wish to see a more equal and safer society and want to resist the attempts to subordinate our class interests in favour of protecting the bottom line’ at any cost.

UCU branches should rush messages in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn now.

We need to act now if we are to save lives. 

Unfortunately, it is not only Starmer that has adopted a national unity’ approach to deal with the public health and economic crisis. TUC leaders have done so too. The beer and sandwiches approach adopted by trade union leaders in the 1970s when they were invited into Downing St to discuss how to resolve the crisis is in full swing today. Then as now few trade union leaders are willing to break from such an approach. We must demand of them they do and do so quickly. 

UCU has rightly adopted a different approach. We have called upon the government and college and university employers to end in-person teaching and make remote learning the default position.  UCU has agreed with the advice of SAGE who advised four weeks ago that,

‘All university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely necessary’.

But once again Johnson has ignored this advice and is demanding that schools, colleges and universities remain open. This is a disastrous decision and will make the impact of the national lockdown in England less effective.

Universities, as we have seen with the incarceration of thousands of students in their halls of residence, are sites of contagion and have helped to speed up the rise in the infection rate into local communities. Schools and colleges are too sites of contagion and will spread the virus. As the DFE said of colleges,

Further Education (FE) creates connectivity between multiple organisations and could amplify local transmission. It is highly likely that there will be outbreaks associated with FE, and asymptomatic transmission may make these harder to detect. 

A significant risk associated with FE is the potential to facilitate wider transmission between households and workplace settings, by providing greater connectivity within a community.’

The NEU have just launched their campaign demanding that schools and colleges to be included in the national four-week lockdown.

UCU should approach the NEU for a joint campaign to demand that all colleges, universities and schools should be included in the four-week national lockdown and move all teaching online. 

No doubt we will hear from government that this is not possible because of the detrimental impact on our young peoples mental health. From a government that is prepared to allow tens of thousands of our children’s grandparents and parents die needlessly, this concern for their wellbeing does not ring true. 

It will be much easy to support those vulnerable students with mental health issues if colleges, schools and universities move to remote leaning. Teachers and lecturers could then identify which students need in-person teaching in a much safer environment for them and their teachers. 

As every study has shown that the rise of mental health issues amongst our young people correlates with the rise of exams as the main form of assessment. The biggest single change the government could and should make to relieve the pressures on our students mental health would be to follow Scotland and Wales and scrap all exams and replace them with teacher assessment. 

If government or employers will not act to protect us – then we will.

Heriot Watt University UCU, once again, have shown that despite all the challenges of the present situation, we can still beat the government’s balloting thresholds and secure legal requirements to resist. UCU branches at Brighton University and Imperial College have also launched ballots to protect jobs. We must do all we can to support them in their fight to defend education and jobs.

Across the post 16 education sector we need to be calling union meetings this week to demand that all teaching to be moved online. The meetings should make clear that failure by the employers to meet our demands will lead UCU to declare that it is not safe to work on site and declare a dispute with their bosses.

UCUs escalation strategy advice makes clear what the next steps are (click here). But we may have to move more quickly to protect lives. Branches need to prepare to do whatever they can to protect the lives of our students, communities and members – by any means necessary..

Sean Vernell UCU NEC