Burston Strike School Rally 2011

I’m a Potter fan.

Who can fail to admire a school child who, in the face of injustice, stands up to people, older, and more powerful than herself, for what she believes in?  In the face of opposition, bullying, and threats, Potter and her peers got what they demanded, bringing about change for fellow pupils, and the children of Burston.

Violet Potter – a Burston Striker

Violet Potter was a pupil at Burston, in Norfolk when, in 1914 she helped organise a strike in protest over the sacking of teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon.  A previous post from last year gives a little more detail of the story.

It was the 1st April 1914 when Tom and Kitty Higdon were handing over the keys to the village school that a group of school pupils began marching around the village chanting “We want our teachers back”.

This was no April Fool’s Joke. The children got their teachers back in what became the ‘Burston Stike School’.  It was a strike which continued for 25 years, and remains the longest strike in history.

The strike was not an easy thing for the children or their families to support.  The Higdon’s were in conflict with the Church, local landowners and employers. The very livelihoods of families could be at stake for supporting the strike school.  So, when you are facing injustice, or intransigent stupidity from those who seemingly have more power than you, and you are scared, or being bullied, just remember those school children.

This coming weekend, on Sunday 4th September, an annual rally will take place in Burston, Norfolk.  The rally will kick of at 11.00 on Church Green.  This year, the union Unite organises the rally, which will feature speeches by Diana Holland from Unite, Kelvin Hopkins MP, NHS worker Dave Carr, and student activist Mary Robinson. Entertainment will be provided by poet John Hegley, with music from Red Flags, as well as Robb Johnson & The Irregulars.

Unite the Union’s website has more information on the rally, including directions.

Glaswegian Waterloo Road

Waterloo Road, the fictional Rochdale comprehensive school is relocating north of the border and setting up a new school in Glasgow.

According to the Independent, the BBC is reported as saying that the second half of series 7, to be aired later this year will end with “a dramatic and explosive storyline which will see a number of teachers and pupils setting up a new independent school in Scotland”.

It may be redundant for this blog to point out the fantasy of this proposed storyline. Waterloo Road represents reality, though it is clearly not reality, and thus there has always been a need to suspend belief while consuming this drama.  The BBC went on to explain how the impending move provides an opportunity for “new stories”. This then, is an auspicious moment to speculate on the storylines that will be narrated in a Scottish Waterloo Road.

  • Will it be a Glaswegian free school?  (granted, this would be complete fantasy)
  • Will there be a position in the English department for Grantly Budgen?
  • What will become of Janeece, and will there be a school crèche in which she can enroll Cheryl?
  • What will the name of the new school be?

Good Schools Show

I was interested to receive a communication advertising the forthcoming Archant Good Schools Show to be held at Olympia next month The interest arose, not from a wish to attend, but from an examination of the discourse used in an attempt to encourage me to secure a place.

Firstly, the subject line of the communication:

Private Schools open their doors to the Public

This is an interesting use of an antonym as a synonym.  It suggests that, private schools, despite their nomenclature, are, in fact public, and thus open to all.  While, historically, there is some accuracy to this description, private schools are in no sense public.  For example, those who own and run private schools are not accountable to most members of the public, but to shareholders or customers.   State schools, on the other hand, do remain accountable to the public.  Granted, that accountability may not always be apparent, exercised as it is through local and national democracy, but ultimately, state schools are accountable in a way that private schools are not.

This subject line also serves to suggest that this event is an opportunity.  Normally private, and thus exclusive, private schools are opening their doors and welcoming in the public.  They are not, of course, opening their doors to the public, those doors are firmly closed to those members of the public who cannot afford such schooling.

The communication goes on to describe how the event will feature:

50 of the countries finest Independent Schools 

Notice here the change from private to independent suggesting, unsurprisingly, independence. However, this is a misnomer.  In one sense, independent is accurate, in that private schools are apart from the state system, and thus not bound by state rules and regulations.  In other words they are free from the constraints that state schools experience. This sense of independence appears attractive, and, no doubt these private schools will use this meaning to appeal to customers.  The flip side of this is, of course, that independent schools are not accountable. The other, related sense of independence is that of freedom and a lack of conformity.  However, while private schools may emphasise their supposed freedom, libertarian schools are unlikely to be advertising their wares at Olympia.

Once at the show, visitors may choose to listen to guest speakers, which include:

Eton’s straight talking headmaster (Tony Little) explaining why he believes no parent should think independent school education is out of their reach

The straight talking from the head teacher of one of the country’s leading public (sic) schools is designed to add weight to the notion that private education is accessible to all.  So long as they can afford to pay for it, that is.

The show will also feature a:

Good Schools Award Ceremony hosted by Tom Parker-Bowles who will bestow his very own Royal Seal of approval to the lucky winners.

This suggests a competition, that good schools will be identified and justly rewarded at this event.  Information on the criteria for entry and for the winning of an award would clarify  the value of these awards, however given the nature of the event, it is likely to be a competition amongst the schools featuring themselves in the show.  To add to the prestige of the occasion there is Eton educated Tom Parker-Bowles, who, incidentally, is not Royalty.

Towards the end of the communication I am urged to pre-register as:

Availability is limited

This is the crux, the very point of elite, private schools.

Elain Harwood – England’s Schools: History, architecture and adaptation

“Our children deserve the very best learning environment that the education system can offer.” (p. vii)

This might seem an uncontroversial statement for Baroness Andrews to include in the foreword to Elain Harwood’s book on the changing forms of school buildings.  However, the following sentence indicates that such a belief is not a given, but a political commitment, as Andrews goes on to say:

“This view is reflected in the Government’s major programme to rebuild or refurbish England’s school buildings over a ten to fifteen year period” (p. vii)

This is reference to the previous Labour administration’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Thus, given the halting of BSF Elain Harwood’s book was almost out of date the moment it was published in 2010.  This fact too, highlights that the design, structure and form of school buildings is not random, but is shaped by a socio-political and economic context.

Harwood refers to the shaping influence of context on school building design throughout history.  It is understandable that she does not go far in this regard, (it is a brief guide to school architecture and listing after all) however, there is enough to whet the appetite and appreciate why a particular school building takes the form it does.

The section on comprehensive schools is rather confusing, referring as it does to the building of secondary modern schools, and, although many became comprehensive schools, the discussion in this section is not sufficiently developed. The contemporary significance of the section on prefabricated school buildings was probably not realised at the time of writing the book, but, the publication of the  Review of Education Capital gives immediate relevance to this topic. The design, structure and form of schools will continue to be shaped by the context in which they exist.  Whether school architecture will be motivated by a desire to give children the “very best learning environment that the education system can offer” is another matter.

England’s Schools: History, architecture and adaptation is published by English Heritage.