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School’s out: lessons end early amid pupils’ protest

Police are called in following walkout over 'discriminatory' uniform as academy closes for Easter break

02 April, 2021 — By Tom Foot and Owen Sheppard

The scene outside Pimlico Academy on Wednesday

THE head of an academy school bowed to a pupil-power protest yesterday (Thursday) as he agreed to scrap a “discriminatory” uniform policy.

Daniel Smith, principal of Pimlico Academy, found himself at the centre of a race row and a vote of no confidence from teachers after scores of pupils walked out of class.

The uniform policy had banned hairstyles that “block the view of others” during lessons, which was considered to target Afro-Caribbean pupils, and there were also controversial stipulations over headscarves.

Police officers were called to the school grounds during the protests, which led to the academy closing early for Easter on Wednesday.

The head’s decision to hoist the Union flag – for many a symbol of far-right ideology and British imperialism – above the school has also been reversed following the protests.

The school has introduced Latin ­lessons and did not properly recognise Black History Month, parents said.

In a letter, Mr Smith accepted that the flag “provoked intense reactions” adding that it would be lowered until a review had concluded.

He wrote: “The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom we all enjoy, one that was hard fought-for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have. Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice. I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.

Parent Dee Johnson, left, outside the school. Photo: Owen Sheppard/Ldrs

“We acknowledge that this symbol [Union flag] is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions.

“We have listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community about it. After Easter we will conduct a review of this and, as part of that, consult with all the academy’s stakeholders to elicit their feedback. In the meantime, and until that review is concluded, the Union flag will not be flown at the academy.”

Despite the climbdown, the National Education Union (NEU) is due to hold an indicative ballot over potential strike action after the Easter break. The NEU said since Mr Smith took over as principal last September, the entire senior leadership team at the school had resigned.

In a letter, published online, those behind the protests said: “Students were outraged there was no recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement or Black History Month.

“In September, many students expected assemblies and i-space sessions to be held in light of the Black Lives Matter movement to show solidarity and support for black students but were disappointed. Instead, students were told to form a club to discuss their experiences, rather than uplifting the voices of black students.”

It added: “We believe that the curriculum does not currently represent its pupils. We should see ourselves and our backgrounds represented in our studies. The rewritten, chronological history curriculum means that the focus is on white British kings and queens.”

The protests reignited debate about institutional racism triggered by the BLM protests last year.

Pimlico Academy in Lupus Street was formed in the face of a wave of protests against a system of independently-run schools brought in under Tony Blair’s New Labour.

It is run by Future Academies, an education group set up by John Nash, now Baron Nash, who became an education minister when David Cameron was prime minister for the Conservative Party, to which he has donated more than £300,000.

Lord Nash was, before setting up Future, the chairman of the British Venture Capital Association. He also became a chairman of one of the biggest private care companies in the country, Care UK.

Westminster Council had agreed to the school being turned into an academy despite huge opposition from parents and pupils.

Liza Begum, a former Pimlico pupil and Labour Party candidate for the upcoming Churchill ward council by-election, said she had gone to the protests and seen children “demonstrating peacefully”.

She said: “I spoke to children… and they were upset about Black History Month being removed from the history curriculum, and subjects about ethnic minorities being removed.

“I was watching the demonstration… and it was a peaceful event. I’m proud of the students who have taken direct action.”
Pimlico Academy, which closed early for Easter on Wednesday lunchtime, has not made an official comment.

‘A list of demands’

Farah Zakari. Photo: Owen Sheppard/Ldrs

FARAH Zakari, 16, was one of a small group of Pimlico Academy pupils who organised the protest that took place, and met school principal Daniel Smith to discuss a set of their demands about the uniform policy and handling of sexual harassment claims.

The Year 12 student from Pimlico said: “We had a list of demands including addressing the racism and dealing with issues of sexual assault.

“They seemed to agree to things like issuing an apology and taking out parts of the uniform policy about haircuts and hijabs. Mr Smith avoided many of the questions we asked and I think his response could have been 10 times better.

“I said if there’s no change don’t be surprised to see us protesting again.”

Asked if she was concerned about ramifications against her, she replied: “I know my rights. It’s totally legal to protest so I don’t think they can do anything.

“If they do, I’m prepared to take the fall for my fellow students.”

‘Kids shouldn’t have to resort to this to be heard’

ROLI Okorodudu, whose Year 13 daughter goes to Pimlico Academy, said: “My daughter is doing her A-levels and it’s a tough time for them.

With everything to do with sexual harassment cases in different schools, the young lady who was killed in Clapham Common, Black Lives Matter and all the lockdowns, it’s been really tough.

“The students don’t feel like they’re being listened to on these issues that have been bubbling under at the school all year. They feel frustrated and disempowered, and what does that do for them once they leave school?”

Dee Johnson, from Pimlico, and whose son is in Year 8, said: “The racist comments about afros really upset my son. He is mixed race and has an afro.

“The school should get a grip. How can a haircut have any impact on their education?

“If there’s no change I will pull my son out of the school. Kids shouldn’t have to resort to this for their voices to be heard.”

Amna Hassan said: “I have a son in Year 11 and at the start of the year he wanted to go to the school’s sixth-form but now he says no way.

“My two sons in Year 9 and 11 have afros.

“They were given detentions on their first day and threatened with internal exclusion until they had them cut. But we refused. Eventually the school backed down and stopped making it an issue.

“The whole geography department resigned and the head of sixth-form resigned. Today is his last day.

“The previous headteacher had been here for nearly 20 years and she made the school outstanding.

“They have started making pupils take Latin…

“This isn’t a private school. It’s a dead language. When my son had Latin on his timetable he said he didn’t want to go in.

“They used to do Black History Month for a whole month and now there’s not a single mention of it.”

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