Anger as Union flag is taken down from outside race row school


Pupils’ list of demands as head praises protesters 

A statement purporting to be from the pupil protesters breaks down their ‘demands’. An extract from this document is shown below – 

DISCRIMINATION  

We believe the school has unfairly targeted groups of students. The school should protect marginalised races, religions and other groups instead of target them. 

RACISM

The academy placed new rules that would punish students with Afro hairstyles, clearly discriminating against Black students.

Students were outraged that there was no recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement or Black History Month.

ISLAMOPHOBIA

The academy has faced further accusations of discrimination for saying hijabs must be black but other clothing can be any colour. This challenges young Muslim girls’ identity.

The new uniform policy includes that ‘if students choose to wear a headscarf, it must completely cover the hair’. This is harmful and insensitive towards girls who have just started to wear the hijab or are struggling with it. It is a personal choice which shouldn’t be decided by authorities who haven’t experienced this. 

TRANSPHOBIA

We believe the idea of gendered uniform for all students is a ridiculous, backwards ideal. This ostracises non-binary and gender non-conforming students, or those who are struggling with their gender identity.

Tory MPs reacted with fury today after the headmaster of a London school agreed to take down the Union flag after pupils staged a Black Lives Matter-inspired mass protest – which also demanded a change to ‘racist’ uniform rules  and a review of the curriculum. 

MP for Harrow East Bob Blackman told MailOnline the situation at Pimlico Academy was ‘bizarre and ridiculous’, adding: ‘It is totally unacceptable to have a position whereby the flag of our country is not allowed to fly above public buildings.’ 

Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, said: ‘At a time when we are trying our very best to bring the country together after the problems with Brexit and coming out of the pandemic, it is very sad to see that this school feels it appropriate not to support the Union flag.

‘It is a symbol of the UK. It brings all four nations together. We should never forget that. To tear flags down, to say you don’t want the flag flying on your building, is very divisive and it is not what we’re looking for at this moment in time.’

Pimlico Academy has been at the centre of a mutiny by students and teachers alike this week over new head teacher Daniel Smith’s ‘back to basics’ regime overseen by the school’s parent academy chain, which is chaired by the Conservative peer Lord Nash, 72.

Changes introduced after Mr Smith’s arrival last September included banning hairstyles that ‘block people’s view’ and hijabs that are ‘too colourful’. Critics claimed this was discriminatory against Muslims and people with Afro hairstyles at the school, where three quarters of children are from ethnic minorities. 

The rebellion has also extended to include other policies claimed to be ‘discriminatory’, including changes to the history curriculum to make it more chronological, which protesters said emphasised white kings and queens over BAME figures. They were also angry about the lack of recognition for Black Lives Matter and Black History Month. 

The British flag had been removed and burnt by pupils in September before it was put back up. Over the weekend, anti-flag graffiti appeared on the school walls saying ‘Ain’t no black in the Union Jack’, ‘White schools for brown kids are u mad’ and ‘Pimlico Academy…run by racists… for profit’.     

The rebellion is a significant challenge to traditional Conservative education reforms emphasising discipline and academic rigour similar to those promoted by Michael Gove when he was Education Secretary. 

Several protesters have specifically credited the Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring the protest, and some of the hundreds of pupils and parents who gathered outside the school yesterday carried BLM banners amid chants of ‘we want change’. 

Opposition is also being led by the notoriously militant National Education Union, whose members from Pimlico Academy on Tuesday night ‘overwhelmingly’ passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Smith. Some 30 teachers are said to be on the brink of quitting and an indicative ballot that could lead to strikes will be held after Easter. 

The academy’s Oxford-educated headmaster Daniel Smith – who protesters want to be sacked – has now acquiesced to some of the pupils’ demands and even praised the demonstrators, saying the flag will come down ‘pending a review’. 

The school was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2011, but has not been inspected since due to the organisation’s previous policy of exempting top-rated schools from regular inspections. Had any serious concerns been raised to Ofsted from 2011 to the present date another inspection would have been ordered, MailOnline understands. 

Today: The Union flag was no longer flying at Pimlico Academy in London this morning following a revolt by pupils, who demanded it be removed. The two left are school flags

Today: The Union flag was no longer flying at Pimlico Academy in London this morning following a revolt by pupils, who demanded it be removed. The two left are school flags 

Yesterday: The Union flag that usually flies outside the school all year round was still up before the protests. The head teacher agreed to take it down pending a 'review'

Yesterday: The Union flag that usually flies outside the school all year round was still up before the protests. The head teacher agreed to take it down pending a ‘review’  

Daniel Smith

A poster advertising the student walk out

The National Education Union, which represents the school’s teachers, has passed a vote of no confidence in new headteacher Daniel Smith (left). On the right is a poster advertising yesterday’s protest 

Daniel Smith said in a statement last night: ‘The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom, we all enjoy, one that was hard fought-for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have. 

‘Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice. I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.’

He added: ‘The issue of the flying of the Union flag was discussed at length. We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions. We have listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community about it. 

‘After Easter, we will conduct a review of this and, as part of that, consult with all the academy’s stakeholders to elicit their feedback. In the meantime, and until that review is concluded, the Union flag will not be flown at the academy.’

Mr Smith adds that the ‘current affairs’ aspect of the PSHE curriculum will now ensure that students are able to discuss issues that are ‘truly current’. 

He went on: ‘Sixth Form student representatives raised concerns about certain aspects of the academy’s Uniform Policy. I was able to reassure students that their previous representations on these points had been the motivation for reflection which, in turn, resulted in revision to the relevant polices taking place. These redrafted policies are the ones I shared with you this morning and remain available to download below.’ 

The new uniform policy, brought in by Mr Smith last year, decreed that hairstyles which ‘block the view of others’ would not be allowed and hijabs ‘should not be too colourful’. The policy has now been changed to simply say that hair should be ‘neat and tidy’.

The school is run by Future Academies, a multi-academy trust which was set up by Conservative peer Lord Nash, who is on the board with his stockbroker wife Caroline. They are both on the local governing body for Pimlico Academy along with Paul Smith, Sarah Richardson and Daniel Woodruffe.   

Protesters at the school – ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted at the last inspection in 2011 – yesterday released a statement railing against ‘racism, Islamophobia and transphobia’ and said they were also angry about the lack of recognition for Black Lives Matter or Black History Month. 

Who is Daniel Smith: Oxford-educated industry veteran with 15 years of senior experience in teaching

Daniel Smith took over as headmaster of Pimlico School at the start of the current school year last September.

The Oxford graduate has held senior positions at schools for nearly 15 years, starting off as assistant principal at Westminster Academy in September 2007.

Mr Smith then took on the same role at The Quest Academy in Croydon in 2010 before moving to The Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent in 2013.

His first headteacher position was at Harris Garrard Academy in Thamesmead which he held from 2017 until 2020, when he moved to Pimlico Academy.

Introducing himself to parents in a letter in July 2020, Mr Smith said the academy would be ‘characterised by the highest expectations of conduct and achievement for all’.

He urged parents, teachers and children to all ‘row together’, and quoted the academy’s motto of ‘Libertas per cultum’, which means ‘Freedom through education’.

Mr Smith is assisted in his role by senior vice principal Tony Oulton, two vice principals and four assistant principals.

He took a degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University in 2007, before taking a master’s in political theory at the London School of Economics.

Mr Smith also took a graduate diploma in law at the BPP Law School, then did an MA in education management at King’s College London.

The school is run by Future Academies, a multi-academy trust which was set up by Conservative peer Lord Nash, who is on the board with his stockbroker wife Caroline.

They are both on the local governing body for Pimlico Academy along with Paul Smith, Sarah Richardson and Daniel Woodruffe.

The school was last inspected by Ofsted in December 2010 when it received an ‘outstanding’ grading.

This report also revealed that the majority of pupils live in areas that are amongst the most socially deprived in Britain, and the proportion of those who are known to be eligible for free school meals is twice the national average.

Nearly one quarter of all students are of white British heritage and the number of students who are advanced bilingual learners, or at early stages of acquiring English as an additional language, was said to be ‘high’.

The largest minority ethnic groups were Black Caribbean and Black African, while one third of students have moderate learning difficulties, dyslexia, behavioural, emotional and social needs and/or disabilities, which is above the national average.

Among the former pupils are Chelsea footballer Tammy Abraham, PR executive Matthew Freud and comedian Mo Gilligan.

 

In a long list of demands, they complained about changes to the uniform policy, including a ban on ‘colourful’ hijabs, and claimed that a transgender boy had had been forced to do PE with girls.  

The list was presented to senior staff by six protesters. The trio of leadership figures, which included headteacher Daniel Smith, CEO of Future Academies Paul Smith and vice-principal Tony Oulton, agreed to the demands and took down the Union flag pending a review. 

Other changes will be made when pupils return after the Easter break, a statement from Daniel Smith said. 

Future Academies founder Lord Nash had a career in venture capital before serving as a Conservative Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools and joined the House of Lords in 2013.

His wife, Lady Nash, is a co-chair of governors, and together they run the ‘Curriculum Centre’, which began working with Pimlico Academy in 2012 and helps decide what pupils will be taught across the academy chain. 

The programme centres on a traditional education, including ‘ancient history’ and ‘British history’. Over the last two years, it has launched common curriculum programmes in English Literature, English grammar, history, science, maths and Latin. 

The Future Academies’ curriculum is based upon seven principles of curriculum design, tailoring programmes to be ‘knowledge-rich, ‘domain-specific’, ‘coherent’, ‘cumulative’, ‘academically challenging’, ‘written with memory in mind’, and ‘written for novices, not experts’. 

Its ‘British History’ programme, available on the Future Academies website, outlines a study plan for ‘Great Events and People from British History’, from ‘Augustine’s Mission’ to ‘The Trial and Execution of Charles I’.

It covers significant events and individuals which have shaped the country, including Alfred the Great; The Norman Conquest; Henry II and Thomas Becket; Richard the Lionheart and Saladin the Merciful; and King John and Magna Carta. 

Also included are Edward I and the Conquest of Wales; The Peasants’ Revolt; Henry’s ‘Great Matter’; The Spanish Armada; and The Gunpowder Plot.

A teacher at Pimlico Academy who resigned and is set to leave this year told The Guardian that staff were feeling demoralised and had fundamental disagreements with some of the choices made by the academy trust’s leadership.

She said that she could no longer work at a school that no longer reflected her values. Roughly two weeks ago the entire geography department handed in their notices to show solidarity with a colleague who had been dismissed earlier in the year, it has been claimed.

The teacher said: ‘It is heartbreaking to know that so many exceptional teachers will be leaving at the end of the school year. 

‘Many feel their hand has been forced as their own values are no longer in line with the senior leaders in school.

She added: ‘Pimlico has a proud history of celebrating its diverse community, so to have a situation where young people do not feel represented, and staff voices are not being heard, is very sad.’

A change.org petition calling for Pimlico Academy to halt dress code changes for all year groups reached more than 1,000 signatures.

It said that changing the sixth form dress code ‘would be acceptable if not for current circumstances’, as many pupils have already bought clothing and cannot afford to re-shop – adding that some are still wary of trying on new clothes in shops amid the Covid pandemic.

It continued: ‘Also, younger years (7-11) and some which also apply to Sixth Form are now faced with a lot of discriminatory changes, such as no facial hair, no makeup until Sixth Form and only then subtle make up, hijabs have to be black however the boys suits and girls blouses can be multicoloured, no big or long hair, girls cannot wear ‘revealing’ clothes that show their shoulders.

‘There are many more factors around things such as jewellery as well. There is not option for non-binary students either.

‘We as students have the right to express ourselves however we choose, and also have the right to have our natural hair whether it be big hair small hair or loads of facial hair or no facial hair.’

Parents and police wait outside the gates of Pimlico Academy yesterday as school children demonstrate in the playground

Parents and police wait outside the gates of Pimlico Academy yesterday as school children demonstrate in the playground

A demonstrator outside the school gates holds up a sign reading: 'I stand with Pimlico students' during the protests yesterday

A demonstrator outside the school gates holds up a sign reading: ‘I stand with Pimlico students’ during the protests yesterday 

Lord Nash: Venture capitalist and Tory peer who founded Future Academies

Pimlico Academy is run by Future Academies, a multi-academy trust which was set up by Conservative peer Lord Nash, who is on the board with his stockbroker wife Caroline. 

They are both on the local governing body for Pimlico Academy along with Paul Smith, Sarah Richardson and Daniel Woodruffe. 

Lord Nash, a former Chairman of the British Venture Capital Association, was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools and joined the House of Lords in 2013.

He read law at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and briefly practised as a barrister before moving to the City and into venture capital.

He is a Foundation Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Vice Chairman of its Development Committee and a member of its Investment Committee.

Lord Nash is described as being ‘deeply passionate about transforming the life chances of young people’ on his Future Academies profile, and is said to be the ‘driving force behind the Trust’s Education Enrichment programme’.

He is a member of Finance and Audit Committee, having been re-appointed on May 20, 2018, for a term of three years.

He is Trustee of Future, Governor and Co-Chair of Pimlico Academy, Governor and Chair of Laureate Academy, Governor and Chair of Phoenix Academy. 

His wife, Lady Nash, is a co-chair of governors, and together they run the ‘Curriculum Centre’, which began working with Pimlico Academy in 2012 and helps decide what pupils will be taught across the academy chain. 

Speaking on Wednesday morning, one female student in year 12 said she had been inspired by Black Lives Matter to ‘speak out’ over the ‘abrupt’ changes to school policies since Mr Smith arrived in July 2020.

‘In light of Black Lives Matter, we do think that it was a responsibility of the students to speak to them and show support, as it was a very traumatic time for many of us,’ she told The Guardian. 

Even teachers have joined the uprising against Mr Smith, with up to 30 said to be planning to leave at the end of the year, and a vote of no confidence in him by the National Education Union last night. 

Mr Smith had emailed parents to say the last day before the Easter holidays would continue as normal. But with hundreds of students refusing to attend lessons parents were sent another email informing them the school would close at lunchtime. Year groups were sent home on a staggered basis with the school gates locked by 2pm.

It is the latest of a wave of demonstrations to hit British schools in recent weeks, which have included protests over ‘rape culture’ and an uprising by parents at Batley Grammar School in Yorkshire over its decision to show cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.   

Some parents have also backed the protests, with one mother with two sons in year 9 and 11 saying the school had gone ‘downhill’ since the new headteacher joined. 

She said one of her sons got a detention because his Afro hair was deemed to break the school dress code. A second parent claimed racism was ‘rife’. 

The school has since said press coverage of pupils discontent provided an opportunity for reflection, for ‘engagement in constructive dialogue’ and ‘action for change’.   

Mr Smith marked his arrival in July with a punchy open letter to parents, in which he repeated the phrase ‘it is your responsibility’ three times in one paragraph while discussing the need for parents to ensure their children complete homework, dress properly and support the academy leadership. 

Former pupils at the school include Chelsea footballer Tammy Abraham, PR executive Matthew Freud and comedian Mo Gilligan.  

Non-students joined in the action, with parents pictured outside the school gates, including one holding a placard which read: ‘I stand with Pimlico students.’

Police officers were also seen on the premises. 

The sit-down protest came following reports that a senior member of staff had asked pupils to cancel the action the day before, but this only made the teenagers more determined to take part. 

The school playground was packed full of students after they refused to take part in lessons during the uprising yesterday

The school playground was packed full of students after they refused to take part in lessons during the uprising yesterday 

A sign covered in anti-fascism and anti-racism stickers outside Pimlico Academy School prior to yesterday's mass protest

A sign covered in anti-fascism and anti-racism stickers outside Pimlico Academy School prior to yesterday’s mass protest

A sit-down protest was held at the school on Wednesday morning against changes introduced by Mr Smith since he arrived in September

A sit-down protest was held at the school on Wednesday morning against changes introduced by Mr Smith since he arrived in September 

Officers stand outside the gates of the school on Wednesday morning during the demonstration

Officers stand outside the gates of the school on Wednesday morning during the demonstration

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier on Wednesday

Students packed out the school playground for the protest on Wednesday

Students packed out the school playground for the protest on Wednesday morning

Students chanted 'we want change' on Wednesday as they protested against their head teacher's policy banning Afro hair and 'colourful' hijabs

Students chanted ‘we want change’ on Wednesday as they protested against their head teacher’s policy banning Afro hair and ‘colourful’ hijabs

Mr Smith marked his arrival with a punchy open letter to parents, in which he repeated the phrase 'it is your responsibility' three times in one paragraph while discussing the need for parents to ensure their children complete homework, dress properly and support the academy leadership

Mr Smith marked his arrival with a punchy open letter to parents, in which he repeated the phrase ‘it is your responsibility’ three times in one paragraph while discussing the need for parents to ensure their children complete homework, dress properly and support the academy leadership

One pupil told the Guardian ahead of the protest: ‘We believe the school has unfairly targeted groups of students. 

‘The school should protect marginalised races, religions and other groups instead of target them. 

‘We should see ourselves and our backgrounds represented in our studies.’ 

Meanwhile a teacher, who has handed in her resignation at the school, told the site she felt staff voices were not being heard.  

Future Academies said: ‘This morning Pimlico Academy saw a protest by some students. The majority of students were in classrooms studying as usual throughout the protest.

It is with regret that these matters have come to a head in such a public way. We want to take this opportunity to reassure parents that this is an isolated event, and we are working to resolve the issues raised. We apologise to all children, families and staff for the disruption today.’  

Headteacher’s full statement caving in to Union flag demands: Daniel Smith praises protesters and says flag will come down ‘pending a review’ 

This morning at Pimlico Academy a student protest took place in the playground. This caused disruption to learning with students taking part in the protest not attending lessons but all students were at all times safe and supervised by staff. Students who did not take part in the protest were able to go to classrooms where they were supervised by staff.

The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom, we all enjoy, one that was hard fought-for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have. Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice. I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.

There was, naturally, press interest in this morning’s events and I wanted to write to you now to explain what happened at the academy today and to summarise the outcomes of discussions which took place with representatives of the student body.

The issue of the flying of the Union flag was discussed at length. We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions. We have listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community about it. After Easter, we will conduct a review of this and, as part of that, consult with all the academy’s stakeholders to elicit their feedback. In the meantime, and until that review is concluded, the Union flag will not be flown at the academy.

Students were vocal in their concerns about how they felt the PSHE curriculum was delivered. I, too, having reviewed the contents of that curriculum carefully, feel that now is the moment to begin long-overdue discussions that will lead to a significant updating of that programme. I look forward to working with students and external agencies to map out a new programme, one that will address contemporary issues and will ensure that students are better able to navigate the world safely and healthily. The ‘current affairs’ aspect of that programme, already in place, will likewise ensure that students are able to discuss issues that are, truly, current.

Sixth Form student representatives raised concerns about certain aspects of the academy’s Uniform Policy. I was able to reassure students that their previous representations on these points had been the motivation for reflection which, in turn, resulted in revision to the relevant polices taking place. These redrafted policies are the ones I shared with you this morning and remain available to download below.

The [death] of Sarah Everard has re-started a national conversation about women’s safety and sexual assault. Recent articles in the press and the foundation of the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ have triggered all schools to reflect seriously on the processes in place when allegations of sexual assault are made by students. As I said in my letter this morning, I am confident that we have in place here rigorous systems for the reporting and handling of such matters. However, there is no room for complacency and so we will also review again our safeguarding procedures, working alongside statutory bodies to ensure they are as robust as possible. I am conscious though that concerns around women’s safety and sexual assaults are best handled by challenging toxic attitudes which often provide the conditions for such things. I will therefore, as part of the PSHE review, be ensuring that we teach students to recognise the equality, dignity and individual identity of all.

I want to conclude by apologising: to students who continue to inspire me daily and who have not always had their voices listened to closely enough; to my colleagues, the staff at Pimlico Academy, who continue to serve the students with such overwhelming dedication during difficult times; to parents and carers who, we know, always have the best interests of their children at heart and; to the wider community with whom we are committed to working positively with in the future. This is a moment for me and the Leadership Team to reflect deeply and to plan carefully so that, going forward, all who work and learn here can feel confident about doing so in a positive, scholarly, respectful environment.

The past twelve months have presented untold challenges to individuals, to communities, and to the world at large. I am privileged to lead an academic community that is committed to fulfilling its pledge that, regardless of the challenges which come our way, every child should attain freedom through education.

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