MORE than 300 parents, teachers, students and schoolchildren marched through the centre of Lewisham, south-east London, on Saturday to save Lewisham Bridge Primary School.
The school has been occupied since last month, when stunned parents were told by Lewisham Council that it was closing and their children would have to be bussed to a temporary site in New Cross called the Mornington Centre.
Saturday’s march heard that the popular school, in pristine condition, is now threatened with demolition so that the site can be redeveloped as a privately-run Academy school for 3-16 year-olds – yet the council ‘hasn’t even got planning permission’.
A leaflet handed out by demonstrators warned that children could be bussed to New Cross for ‘the next two years’, and added: ‘The planned new school would have a significantly different legal status to the existing “community’’ primary school.
‘It would become a “foundation’’ school that can set its own admissions policy.
‘Staff would be employed by the governors, not the Local Authority.
‘The new school would probably become part of a “Trust’’ federation sponsored by the “Leathersellers Company’’ that backs Prendergast School. This is part of the Council’s wider plans to break up schools into competing Trusts and Academies.
‘The Trust would be run by just one governing body. It will be less democratic and less representative. Governors elected by parents will be replaced by parents appointed by the foundation.
‘So Lewisham Bridge school is also being knocked down as part of a plan to break up democratic comprehensive education in Lewisham.’
Local people joined the march as it headed through the busy shopping centre, demanding: ‘Hands off Lewisham Bridge – bring our children back!’, ‘Leathersellers – no way! Lewisham Bridge – here to stay!’ and ‘Hands off Lewisham Bridge – stop Bullock’s bulldozers!’
There were banners on the march from Lewisham, Hackney, Lambeth and Greenwich NUT, as well as the Anti-Academies Alliance.
The march was led by parents carrying the ‘Hands Off Lewisham Bridge’ banner.
As Saturday’s march was assembling opposite the occupied primary school, Lewisham Bridge parent Sandra Fitzpatrick told News Line: ‘Besides the fact this is an historical building, they have spent all this money making this school safe for our kids – and then they go and move them to a building that isn’t even safe!
‘My child complains that there is no room to play at the place in New Cross and there’s no proper drinking water for him.
‘You’re having to put your children on buses. One person looking after however many kids on a bus each morning.
‘You’re stood here waiting around every day, for half an hour sometimes, to collect your kids when they’re bussed back from New Cross.
‘I think it’s really, really disrupted my son’s education. He doesn’t want to come to school now, he doesn’t want to go to the Mornington Centre.
‘He says the classroom’s not right, the playground’s not right. They just don’t care about them.
‘I support the occupation, definitely. I even wrote a personal email to Steve Bullock (the mayor of Lewisham) himself, explaining what I thought about it all.
‘The children are happy here at Lewisham Bridge. Why upset that – we don’t need a 3-16 school. That’s not making our younger kids safe. I think it’s a stupid idea!’
Sharon Kendall, a parent a child minder, said: ‘We’re marching today to get our school back!
‘Nobody’s listening to us. I support the occupation, definitely.
‘I think everybody’s got a right to stand up for their school.
‘The academy school won’t work, there’s not enough room here for it and we don’t want little children mixing with big children.’
Maggie Kendall, a grandparent and child minder, added: ‘If this school’s pulled down and rebuilt, there won’t be any room for the children who are here now.’
Dawn Kendall said: ‘I think it’s outrageous the children have to be bussed between Lewisham and New Cross every day.
‘They don’t even know what time they’ll get back in the evening, it all depends on the traffic. Their education is definitely suffering.’
Sharon said that at the temporary site in New Cross, ‘the playground is too small, so you’re not allowed to run or play football.
‘They’re cooped up and at the moment there’s no drinking facilities because the water fountains don’t work.
‘They’re up and down loads and loads of stairs as well – 64 to be precise, I’ve counted them!’
Local resident Karl Thomas said: ‘I support the occupation at Lewisham Bridge. There’s not enough schools as it is. I feel they’re just trying to close it down to make money.’
John Allinson, a student from Goldsmiths College, said: ‘We think it’s really important in times of recession that people start to fight back against worsening conditions.’
Bridget Chapman a former teacher at Pimlico School and vice-chair of the Anti-Academies Alliance, told News Line: ‘We lost the battle at Pimlico because it is now an academy, but it is part of a bigger war against privatisation.
‘I’m inspired by what the teachers at Lewisham Bridge are doing and I think it’s fantastic.’
Saturday’s demonstration ended with a rally next to Lewisham Clocktower.
Parent Eleanor Davies told the rally: ‘We took this action because we are fed up spending almost three years of not being listened too!
‘We don’t want Leathersellers to run our schools.’
She added: ‘Our children are bussed to a place called the Mornington Centre.
‘They wait outside a perfectly good school every day to be bussed to New Cross, some of them as young as three.
‘But we’re standing up to save our school, which has served the needs of the community for a hundred years.’
Davies said the motivation behind demolishing existing schools and building academies was making money.
‘Big business has seen an opportunity to make a big buck,’ she told the rally.
She said there had already been partial victories in the struggle to defend council housing in Lewisham and said the occupation of Lewisham Bridge was inspired by the occupation by the sacked Visteon workers at their factories in Belfast and Enfield.
‘They stood up and fought and that’s what we have to do – send a message to the labour movement: stand up and fight.
‘When your school is threatened with closure, occupy it. When your factory is threatened with closure, occupy it.’
Leone, another Lewisham Bridge parent, said: ‘All we want is our school back.
‘We’re told it could take up to two years before they even consider placing them back.
‘I can’t believe my son has to go through this at the age of six!’
Martin Powell-Davies, from Lewisham NUT, said: ‘We’ve got to keep the pressure on Bullock.’
He said the occupation should be maintained, suggested standing anti-privatisation candidates in the council elections, and called for ‘workers themselves to take strike action’.
‘I can assure you that’s what the NUT wants to take forward, right across Lewisham, in united action with parents, to defend our education,’ he added.
Kirsty Paton, president of Greenwich NUT and a supporter of the Lewisham Bridge occupation since it started, also spoke about the sit-in by parents at closure-threatened Charlotte Turner school in Greenwich last week.
Calling for everyone to rally behind the Lewisham Bridge occpation, she called for not just messages of support ‘but action, because what they’re planning, if they get their way, is there won’t be any state schools left in Lewisham.
‘The parents have inspired us. We need to back it up with some serious industrial action.’
She also called for ‘a national Day of Action’ to defend education.
The rally heard that since the occupation at Lewisham Bridge began, the parents have been inundated with messages of support from across the country, from Portsmouth to Glasgow.
Other speakers included Sara Tomlinson, joint divisional secretary of Lambeth NUT, Helen Mercer, from the Lewisham Gateway Action Group, and John Hamilton.