Hundreds of students have staged a protest outside a London secondary school over allegations of racism amid changes to the curriculum, its uniform policy and the placement of a union flag outside the building.
Students, parents and some staff at Pimlico academy have been angered over the recent changes, culminating in a large-scale protest on Wednesday morning. The protest was originally organised to take place on a football pitch within the school grounds, but in an apparent attempt to stop the event from happening, the gates to the pitch were allegedly locked by school staff.
Students instead gathered in the main grounds, just outside the main entrance, holding banners saying: “Black Lives Matter” amid chants of: “We want change.” The protest took place throughout the morning, and several police officers were present after being called by the school.
Accompanying the protest were a series of demands made by the students, which included an end to “discriminatory” school uniform policies, removing the union flag from outside the school, and introducing efforts to make students from a black and minority ethnic background feel more welcome.
The Guardian has previously reported that the school has come under intense scrutiny in recent months with staff resignations and a vote of no confidence in its headteacher.
In September 2020 students took down and burned a union flag that had been erected outside their school. Four weeks earlier, pupils had started a petition in response to the academy’s strict new uniform policy, which stated that hairstyles that “block the views of others” would not be permitted and hijabs should not be “too colourful”. The pupils accused the school’s management of racism, claiming that the new policy would penalise Muslims and those with afro hairstyles.
A female student in year 12 said she was taking part in the protests because she was unhappy with the “abrupt” changes to school policies since a change in the school’s administration. “The change in policies have been a shock to a lot of the new students, because the school we initially applied for isn’t necessarily the school we are attending now.”
She added that a lack of support from staff at the school in relation to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place last summer was also a fundamental reason why there was such unhappiness among the student body.
“In light of Black Lives Matter, we do think that it was a responsibility of the students to speak to them and show support, as it was a very traumatic time for many of us,” she said.
The discontent surrounding the school administration is also felt by parents. One mother, who has sons in both year 9 and 11, said she felt the school had gone “downhill” since the new headteacher had joined. “The school was a really happy environment and my sons were flourishing here. But now, my son is always scared of getting into trouble for silly reasons.”
She said her son had received a detention because his afro hair had been deemed not to fit in with the school dress code. “The school asked me to come in and said that we needed to change his hairstyle, and I refused to,” she said. “This is his hair style and his identity. Why do they want to change that? He is very happy with his hair.”
Another parent, who has a daughter in year 11, said that her child was taking part in the protests because of safeguarding issues rife in the school, which had become an “unhappy place”. “Racism is rife in the school, and there’s a lack of safeguarding. The staff are frustrated of the new setup, the new regime and the headteacher. It’s a very unhappy place.”
Following the protests parents were contacted by the school saying it would close early for the Easter holidays, with a staggered departure for different year groups.
In a separate email seen by the Guardian the school sent parents three documents, including its uniform policy with the offending rules crossed out and a statement from the principal, Daniel Smith, addressing their concerns.
It said the press coverage and the concerns it raised were an opportunity for reflection, for “engagement in constructive dialogue” and “action for change”.
In the email, Smith maintained that the school had “robust safeguarding measures in place”, and would “continue to do everything in our power to ensure that [the school] is a safe place for all”.
He added: “Being part of a diverse community is exciting but not without its challenges. If we are to truly celebrate our differences then we must brace ourselves for difficult conversations and engage in a process of ongoing self-scrutiny.
“That though will bring about a society more equal and more just and I look forward to our school being at the forefront of this debate and leading the change that is needed.”
Future Academies, which runs the school, said: “This morning Pimlico academy saw a protest by some students. The majority of students were in classrooms studying as usual throughout the protest.
“It is with regret that these matters have come to a head in such a public way. We want to take this opportunity to reassure parents that this is an isolated event, and we are working to resolve the issues raised. We apologise to all children, families and staff for the disruption today.”
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