Click on the book cover to read my review of Michael Fielding and Peter Moss (2010) Radical Education and the Common School: A Democratic Alternative.
The climax to the recent run of Waterloo Road saw pupils, and teachers, armed with banners, occupying the school roof-top in protest against, (nay resistance against), the suspension of Head, Karen Fisher, and the seemingly inevitable closure of the BBC’s very own Comprehensive school.
This demonstration was the denouement to several weeks of bullying, intimidation, and subterfuge between Karen Fisher, Richard Whitman from the LA (Local Authority – notice how the LEA has disappeared from usage) and the politically active, yet politically naive English teacher, Eleanor Chaudry.
The extent to which Waterloo Road reflects the reality of contemporary comprehensive schools has been discussed here on this site. While the solidarity against the might of bureaucracy demonstrated in this final episode might not be common place, it is worth acknowledging the long history of pupil resistance which does suggest that this storyline is not as far-fetched as it might first appear.
From the school strikes of 1889 and 1911, to the Burston strike beginning in 1914, pupil protests have often been dismissed as meaningless insubordination, or, in the case of a nationwide wave of pupil strikes “immitative” (Baker, 2010: p. 34). In other words, lacking a genuine reason for complaint, the pupils went on strike for the fun of it, and others copied. Such a response was a useful way of avoiding engaging with the legitimate grievances of pupils. These included corporal punishment (or more accurately violence), crowded classrooms, poor quality teaching, crumbling buildings, and the under-payment of monitors.
The children taking part in these protests were never in a strong position, just like striking workers, who strike because, ultimately, the only power that they do have is to withhold their labour. Striking children didn’t even have this. Similarly, the pupils of Waterloo Road are pretty powerless too, but, in a departure from reality, we will see the pupils and teachers (including the incompetent Grantly Budgen) triumph over the nasty bureaucratic intentions of Richard Whitman and his fellow acolytes of performativity and standardisation. If it were our local comprehensive school, we would want it to close, we would not send our children there, yet Waterloo Road will survive, at least until the end of the series.