At the end of last month, on Wednesday 31 March, hundreds of students at Pimlico Academy in London held a sit-down protest on school grounds.
This demonstration has been presented in the mainstream media as a response to a change in the school’s uniform policy. But a closer look shows a deeper rooted political battle taking place at the academy. The recent protest was the culmination of this struggle.
Tell the truth
The protest happened on the back of countless changes, which reveal quite clearly the racist outlook of the school’s leadership. For example, recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black History Month had been scrapped from the curriculum.
On top of that, the Union Jack flag had been introduced to the hallways and outside the school. This took place with no consultation of staff and students at the school; all those who voiced disagreement were ignored.
Not only has teaching on oppression been removed, but a larger focus has been placed on the British monarchy.
The education system is often presented as simply a means to help facilitate the growth of students, allowing young people to form their own opinions.
But the actions of the Pimlico Academy leadership show that education under capitalism is far from neutral. They show in no uncertain terms that the British education system stands in favour of the established order.
Included in the changes that school management attempted to impose were new uniform policies, which directly targeted black and Muslim students. These additional rules restricted hairstyles that “block the view of others” – implying afros and natural black hair.
The rules also banned any hijabs that were deemed to be “too colourful”.
A petition against these racist rules was swiftly started, rapidly reaching over 1,000 signatures.
In response to all these reactionary changes, hundreds of students took action against the new measures, organising a sit-down protest in the school grounds. Students carried placards saying ‘Black Lives Matter’.
U CANNOT STOP US. pic.twitter.com/EtoWUSjlAA— Ayah (they/them) (@AyahAyah_) March 31, 2021
Graffiti was added to walls and areas outside of the school grounds, labelling the academy as racist, and calling for the head teacher to be sacked. Slogans such as ‘Ain’t no black in the union jack…’ and ‘Pimlico Academy run by racists…for profit’ could be seen.
This protest demonstrates how politicised young people have become. It all goes to show that students are no longer willing to passively accept ideas that do not correspond to the reality of oppression and exploitation that they experience in their lives.
We can also see that students are prepared to take matters into their own hands; to demand an end to the rotten status quo.
For young people, there is a growing understanding that things do not need to stay like this. This leaves the establishment in a dangerous position. In trying to clamp down on this mood, they only end up adding more fuel to the flames.
So angry were some students against the new school changes, that they removed and subsequently burned the Union Jack that had been placed outside the school.
Thirty members of staff are due to leave by the end of the school year, as they no longer feel comfortable working in this environment. This shows how detached the new school leadership has become from students and staff.
The restructuring of the history course – to replace the tiny amount of education on minority groups with further propaganda on the British monarchy – is reflective of the flag-waving ‘culture war’ the Tories are trying to promote as a distraction from their crimes.
The reality is that if people really knew the true history of the British Empire, with the monarchy at its head, they would not line up in support of it. The youth are clearly demonstrating this fact.
The students at Pimlico College have won their battle, with the college agreeing to all of their demands to reverse the proposed measures. The lesson here is that militancy pays.
So good to see the demands of students at #PimlicoAcademy after their recent win 👏 👏 YES! The school has a history of creative student resistance + fighting together, from back in my day this was anti Iraq war school strikes with march on parliament + protests against PFI bill https://t.co/MCXIkXW4G7— Ruby Kvalheim (@SustaFest) April 8, 2021
This is not the end of the struggle against oppression, however. The ruling class is frightened of what is to come, as workers and youth become increasingly radicalised by the crisis of capitalism.
The establishment will therefore continue to wage their ‘war on woke’, in an attempt to divide the working class and distract from their own failings.
The way to combat this is for workers and youth to unite in militant action against all oppression and exploitation. Pimlico College students have shown the way forward.
Update: Stand with Pimlico Academy students
Students at the Pimlico Academy have been fighting continuously against the newly changed uniform policy and curriculum. This includes restrictions to colourful hijabs and afro hairstyles; and a complete rewriting of the history curriculum to exclude education on BAME communities and Black History Month, replacing it with content on the British monarchy.
Last month hundreds of students from the school took part in a demonstration outside of their school against these decisions (see above). Now they are facing expulsion.
The head teacher of the school, Daniel Smith, sent out an email to some parents of the children who took part in the protest, just before the Easter holidays, asking them to attend a disciplinary meeting on Monday 19 April. The purpose of the meeting was said to be to discuss the “nature of the disruptive behaviour” and give students an “opportunity to reflect on their actions”.
He also mentioned that if a student has breached the behaviour policy, then they may be permanently excluded from the academy. Furthermore, the head teacher isn’t the only one who is trying to silence these students; the chair of Future Academies, Lord Nash, also wrote a letter of warning to the parents, telling them any future “disobedience” will result in disciplinary action.
This clearly mirrors the general battle in political life at the moment with the Kill the Bill protests, in which it is not unusual to see more than 100 people arrested on bigger demos. The demand for control by the ruling class is not a new occurrence, but certainly shows the time we are in. Rights are currently being stripped away – left, right and centre – in a draconian attempt to repress protests and push through attacks on workers and youth.
This is not just a case of a rogue headmaster; this is clearly another example of hostility towards people fighting against oppression and exploitation. All the rights that we enjoy have been won in struggle – the very struggle which is being clamped down on.
This is not a choice anymore: we all must fight back against the decrepit system. Join the Marxist Student Federation to fight back!