OVER 500 angry parents, teachers and children have marched on Lewisham Town Hall in south London, shouting: ‘No cuts or privatisation! Join the march to defend education!’ and ‘What do we want? Special schools! When do we want them? Now!’
Slogans rang out from every part of the march from Lewisham Hospital to the town hall in Catford, also including: ‘What do we want? Save Brent Knoll! When do we want it? Now!’, ‘Special kids, special schools!’, ‘What do we want? Save Pendragon! When do we want it? Now!’
At a rally outside the town hall, angry parents and teachers condemned planned cuts to special schools and the privatisation of state education.
‘I think everyone should have an equal chance, no matter what “democracy’’ says!’ said Georgina, a school pupil.
Another child, from Brent Knoll school, said: ‘We’re here to save our primary school, all of us. That’s all we want.’
Many people took to the microphone to express their opposition to cuts and closures, especially of special schools.
As the march assembled, Tracie Rajaram told News Line: ‘I’m demonstrating because I’m against closing down special schools.
‘I also work in a school as a teaching assistant and I see when children need that one-to-one support.’
Gill Norris, a member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: ‘The funding they’re giving us now just won’t be enough to provide for children’s special needs in (mainstream) schools and the closing of special schools is a real mistake. I think it’s a very short-sighted policy.
‘They’ve got to think of the people, the people just aren’t being catered for at the moment.
‘I think we should unite and fight the changes that are happening because they’re not beneficial to anybody.’
Jan O’Kane, a parent, said: ‘We’re here to save our school, Brent Knoll (for children with special needs).
‘They want to close the primary department. Lots of children are affected.’
John Staggs said: ‘We’re not just here for our kids but for the kids that come after them.
‘I think these special units the council are proposing will lead to educational apartheid.
‘It is a cost-cutting exercise and they’ve been doing it by stealth.’
Jean Duncan, a parent and teacher, said: ‘I think it’s disgusting what the government is trying to do.
‘There is no question there should be special needs schools.
‘When they close special needs schools they expect children to go into mainstream schools, where some teachers are not trained to teach them.
‘They go from classes of 10 into classes of 30. It is too much pressure.’
She added: ‘Often it’s the poorer people who are at a disadvantage. In this society, money speaks.
‘So we need support and the trade unions need to take action.
‘We know there is money, but the money is being spent on wars which have nothing to do with us.’
Elena Davies, a parent from Lewisham Bridge primary school, said: ‘They’re proposing turning Lewisham Bridge into a three to 16 school.’
She said it would become part of a federation ‘which is essentially a trust built under PFI (the Private Finance Initiative).’
At the rally outside the town hall, Debbie Lester, a parent from Brent Knoll school, said: ‘I don’t know how they can justify getting rid of the primary provision.’
Emine Aktun, a parent from Pendragon school, said: ‘We are disgusted with what Lewisham is trying to do.
‘Lewisham is trying to make “units’’, they want our kids to go into units. Our kids are not animals!
‘Leave our special schools as they are and give parents choice.’
Roy David, a grandparent, warned against plans to merge Monson school with Haberdashers Aske’s to make an academy.
‘They are trying to fool the ethnic people that if you’ve got 12 to 15 children from Monson that will come through, then Aske’s will take all of them. That is a myth,’ he said.
Pointing to the town hall, he added: ‘I remember when we all used to be part of the socialist movement in Lewisham. Today where are they?’
‘I’m a local parent and teacher,’ said Kirsty Paton, an NUT member.
‘It’s important we all stick around and let Mr Bullock (the mayor) know how we feel.
‘We don’t want to see the closures of our special schools.
‘This council know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.’
She warned the council was ‘pushing ahead with an agenda in education where private organisations are going to be running the buildings.
‘We want good local schools where we have a say in what happens, not schools accountable to shareholders in some distant boardroom.’
Thanking all the people who had turned out for the demonstration, she said: ‘The message is that it’s direct action that works.’
Valentine Pelka, another Brent Knoll parent, said: ‘I’ve got a child with special needs. I have never come up close with politics, except to vote in a general election or a local election.
‘But I am disgusted by what is happening.’
Ex-Brent Knoll pupil Candy Place said: ‘Brent Knoll literally saved my life.
‘I went to a mainstream school and actually stopped talking because I couldn’t keep up with the other children – look at me now!’
John Hamilton, from the Bring Back Democracy and New School Campaign, attacked the mayoral system in Lewisham.
Socialist Party councillor, Ian Page, asked: ‘Has the mayor listened to any of you?’ – ‘No!’ was the reply from the crowd.
‘Has he done anything to education that you want him to do?’ – ‘No!’
He accused the council of making ‘sleazy financial deals with the government that have got nothing to do with educational needs.
‘We’ve seen that we can be successful. This council can be forced to listen. We will continue to support your campaign,’ he added.
Lewisham NUT secretary Martin Powell-Davies said: ‘We’re not prepared to see closures, privatisation, academies, trusts or closures of special schools, or “inclusion’’ without the required funding.
‘We’re not prepared to see the destruction of education in Lewisham.’