Lewisham Academies: “Don’t give up fighting”

Submitted by Matthew on 3 July, 2015 - 2:55

Luke Morgans, a student at Hilly Fields school who was involved in the successful anti-academies campaign in Lewisham, spoke to Solidarity.

I wasn’t one of the very first students to be involved. I got involved when we started having demonstrations in February and March.

I was already broadly left-wing, but I hadn’t done anything with my politics.

It was separate from the workers’ campaign. Staff were told they weren’t allowed to talk to us about it. We knew our teachers were sympathetic, but they couldn’t go on our protests. We linked up at the community protests on some Saturdays and on strike days. The workers’ action had a good effect on the student campaign. It gave us a sense of momentum and solidarity.

We met students from other schools on the strike days and protests. Some students from Sedgehill were in touch. We didn’t manage to establish real links with Ladywell Fields. Our main links were with Prendergast Vale, where there was a very active campaign and where one of the leading student activists is based. We did some coordinated lunchtime protests with them.

I think Hilly Fields took a leading role because we are the only one of the schools with a sixth form. In fact, the number of sixth formers involved wasn’t massive – we had much bigger numbers from lower years. But the sixth formers were important in giving people a lead and some confidence.

We had a student march between the two sites of Hilly Fields, which are near each other.

At the Vale they had a lunchtime march through the school corridors! That’s what led to people being threatened with suspensions, but the action went ahead and the suspensions were withdrawn. We organised student ballots at both schools, and at both it was 97 percent against academisation!

There was a protest at Leathersellers, which is the “charity” owned by really rich people that partly runs our schools. That was organised by the unions, but a lot of students went along. Students also went to the workers’ pickets lines on strike days, although smaller numbers.

Hardly anyone was in favour of academies, but lots of people said you can’t do anything, there’s big money involved, stuff like that. Once we had our second Hilly Fields protest, which was maybe 250 out of 800 students, people were impressed and became less sceptical that we might win.

We argued with people that “we’ve got to try”. If we don’t do anything, we definitely won’t stop it. If we fight we might win and if we lose at least we’ve held our heads up.

Before the election, we thought we’d have a much better chance with a Labour government; Vicki Foxcroft [MP for Lewisham Deptford] has supported us and she said she’d take it up with a Labour education minister. When the Tories won, we mostly thought that was that, we had no chance. I’d say the lesson is, don’t give up. Even if when something seems like a lost cause, it isn’t necessarily.

I think they’ll come back for us, particularly with the Tories urging them, but probably not next year. They’ll want to let the dust settle. They’ll probably try again in two or three years’ time. There’ll be a fight but it will be a hard fight, because academies are very much the national trend.

I’m sure some of the students involved in the campaign will continue to be politically active. Some are involved in climate change campaigns; some went on the anti-austerity demo on 20 June. A lot of the leading people are leaving school, but I’m sure some will be activists when they get to university. Perhaps some of the younger students will find ways to stay active too, and some of them will still be around if academisation comes back.

I think most of those involved were already left-wing but the experience of this struggle has made things sharper and more solid. I’m definitely leaning towards socialism.

If you’re involved in a fight, keep fighting. If you’re thinking about organising, give it a go. Good luck to you.

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