With the latest round of industrial action impacting pupils and parents alike, TCWDF goes to a north London school to try and make sense of what’s going on.
ST ANGELA’S is housed in a mixture of run-down Victorian buildings alongside more recent prefabricated additions, and it is crying out for investment. Pupils come from a variety of backgrounds; for many, English is their second language.
I enter from the road through ‘Khan’s Arch’, a thoughtful and impressive portico constructed from knives and machetes recently harvested via a neighbourhood amnesty. The playground is bustling with teenagers split into gangs, and whilst long-forgotten games such as British Bulldog and Hopscotch no longer feature, modern equivalents such as ‘Find the dealer’ and ‘Who has the gun’ are played with great gusto.
I head over to the Winnie Mandela Block. Through experience, I know that the staffroom tends to be the beating heart of any educational establishment, and St Angela’s is no different.
What strikes me forcefully and immediately is the passion the staff exude. These people are, to a man, (woman/non-binary/agender/bigender/genderfluid/genderqueer) dedicated professionals who care deeply about their charges: imparting knowledge is their aspiration. Commitment is etched deeply on all faces.
Yes, I can see that the tea-station is especially crowded and that the biscuit barrel is the centre of attention, but more than that, I observe just how many staff are busy preparing their next lessons.
The head of art is busying himself in a corner of the room painting placards emblazoned with ‘More pay now!’ and ‘Defend our Schools’: clearly these will form part of a ‘post-modernism’ module.
The English teachers are immersed in the Racing Post, New Statesman, Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, while the geography cadre are catching up on Al Gore’s well received and thoroughly researched book Rain Bombs and Boiling Oceans – The World is Dying.
A few of the staff are sitting in armchairs lost in deep contemplation, their deliberations so intense that they have momentarily closed their eyes.
Money seems to be at the heart of the current dispute, and despite being awarded an 8.9 per cent increase last July feelings are running high. I ask one of the staff about what they expect and more importantly about the disruption caused to families during strike days. ‘Terry’ has been the media studieslead tutor for ten years and eloquently encapsulates why he will be on strike:
‘It’s quite simple really, we are fed up with the bourgeoisie trampling on the rights of the proletariat. We want a society that is run by the masses for the masses, and we will not stop until the running dogs of imperialism have been defeated and that the fascist junta that masquerades as democracy has been overthrown. We the teachers are responsible for our next generation, and it is frankly sickening that the jack-booted Tory party feel emboldened to subjugate, intimidate and threaten such admired workers.’
For many, 13 weeks holiday, an inflation-proof pension, the ability to work from home and innumerable ‘training’ days simply do not make the profession an appealing one.
With such strong and understandable emotions on display, it is difficult to see how this dispute will end quickly and easily.