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UCU 'Cradle to Grave' conference 2019

12 December 2018

UCU conference on the defence of public education being held on 16 February 2019 in Manchester.

The theme for our 2019 conference was 'reimagining education - towards a national education service' which will looked at the many critical issues facing further and higher education including the role of meritocracy, inequality and devolution.

Keynote speakers:

Morning session

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Afternoon session 

 Re-imagining education John Harris - Guardian journalist and author

 The myth of moritocracy - Doctor Jo Littler, City University


1.      Unpicking privilege and power - what does real equality look like?


Professor Paul Miller, University of Huddersfield

Melz Owusu, Poet, University of Leeds

Jo Platt MP for Leigh

2.      Students or consumers - can a National Education Service deliver opportunity and  outcome?

Dr Louise Bruce presented her research outlining issues such as the cost of impacting on the buy-in of education. Does cost influence value or is it the other way round? She pointed out the inappropriateness of consumer culture in Universities, which relies on surveying 'customers' (students) to find out what they want. She pointed out that students, unlike consumers who come to a market equipped with knowledge about what they want; are unable to exercise 'consumer choice' since what they want isn't necessarily what is valuable in higher edication.

Hannah Sketchley from the NUS talked about access, cost and quality of education. Having student and teacher voices at the heart of decision making and curriculum planning is vital. She asked the group: "What do democratic classrooms look like?"

Professor Nicola Ingram presented research on class and social mobility and how privilege is perpetuated alongside the postcode lottery. She explored the concept of 'social magic' and how the job criteria of some graduate employers contain hidden prejudice. Desirable qualities such as 'global acumen' further widen the class divide.

Gordon Marsden outlined the National Education Service and inspired attendees with a blueprint for a "Social Mobility Revolution" and the value of FE, Prison, Adult and Community Education.

3.      Learning through liberation - the picket line as classroom

 Facilitated by Dr Kay Sidebottom, on learning on the picket line using examples of teach outs from recent UCU disputes.

  • explored ways in which we could continue to capture the joy and liberatory feelings from the strike teach-outs. Suggestions included: closer working with students/NUS around key issues and finding more occasions to work on educational projects across disciplinary silos (could UCU help to facilitate this?)
  • It was felt there was a job of education needed in helping students to critically engage with union issues and that this shouldn't be left until the eve of/during strike action but be embedded more in our teaching practice.
  • Connected to this, the group discussed the role of critical pedagogy in transformative educational practice. It was felt that this was an area that many teaching staff could benefit from learning more about.  Gaining confidence to discuss important contemporary issues in the classroom, and having difficult conversations felt increasingly important. Also, where is the space for university educators to reflect critically on their teaching practice?  

 The group queried the effectiveness of some HR-driven teaching quals and wondered if the UCU could run critical pedagogy workshops as part of their training offer.

Last updated: 14 January 2020