19 Students were suspended at Shorefields Technology College in the Dingle, Liverpool on Tuesday 10th of May after some 150 of them had walked out in protest at management plans to turn the school into an academy.
Their teachers, members of both the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) trade unions, were going out on strike the following day.
The fight against the academy is one that is bringing together staff, pupils and the local community. The Dingle is a working-class area and, for Liverpool, very racially mixed. Academy status - the [irreversable] removal of the school from local authority control, will mean the business/backer that comes in to run the school will be under no compulsion to accept students with any extra educational needs, or for whom english is a second language. They will also be bound by none of the local or national agreements on pay, jobs or conditions which workers in education have fought for.
Activists from the Merseyside Network Against Fees and Cuts had produced a leaflet which we had been giving out at the school gates the morning of the walkout – and in an interview for the Liverpool Echo that evening the Deputy head Ian Young was huffing and puffing about 'propaganda' – he obviously doesn't think his school is encouraging young people to think for themselves then! In actual fact, students at Shorefields have already demonstrated their unwillingness to just go along with the changes, their willingness to fight – over 500 of them walked out before Christmas when the plans were first announced.
Several Students made it up early enough to be at the teachers' pickets on the strike day itself. They were joined by parents, younger kids, the GMB (General Municipal and Boilermakers Union) who organise the non-teaching staff, and other student and trade union activists from across the city.
At 9.00 there was a march which went round the area surrounding the school. On more than one occasions teachers from the school would be greeted by people, at work, in their mid-twenties who turned out to be former students – the kind community link that's easily lost when kids no longer automatically get into their local school.
We finished up with a meeting where we heard speeches including a NUT rep from Chester who was very informative about the rolling out of the academy program across the North West. The 'backer' for Shorefields is actually the University of Chester, which has gone into a whole string of schools already – with redundancies often following.
A point that was made again and again was the control and impact these organisations can have on the quality and content of education; 'skills based learning' - getting trained to knock stuff out with no understanding, classes in 'british identity' (the proposed new emblem for Shorefields is a St George's Cross), let alone the kind of nonsense religious organisations will be propagating.
I made a point of expressing solidarity from college and university students, spoke about the fact that it was a university that was predating on the education of school students for the sake of profit showed what higher education has become, and the need to link the fights across the sector.
A sixth form student from the school also spoke, to a big cheer. Herslef and her friend had been the ones who had pulled together the walkout in the winter. They'd actually not been in on Tuesday and she seemed to think that the suspensions were down to people losing focus and using the walkout as an excuse to run wild. We spoke about how if you didn't have an ongoing core of people organising, discussing and providing direction it was easier for things to fizzle into more mindless disruption or management to reimpose their arguments. They're keen to get involved in the MNAFC.
As a whole, the campaign seems to have got a really good group going, they're meeting regularly, have got a lobby of the council coming up on the 24th, and are clear in that they see it as their responsibility to fight and demonstrate to other schools that they can fight.