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Last week, it was announced by Pimlico Academy that students who had participated in a protest against racist school policy would potentially face disciplinary measures, including permanent exclusion. In an email from headteacher Daniel Smith, it was outlined that students would be given an “opportunity to reflect on their actions” following the protest on 31st March, where students gathered outside the main entrance chanting and displaying banners, eventually culminating in the police being called to the school. This response, which comes after teacher resignations and a vote of no confidence in the head from the NEU, is a blatant attempt to curtail dissent against the Academy’s administration and to stifle potential future protests. It spits in the face of the concerns raised by students around racism and oppression within the academy.
In a document from students, the motivations for the protest were outlined, with the most widely reported cause being the anti-Black, racist and Islamophobic uniform policy, banning haircuts that “block views” (functionally implying afros) and unprecedented restrictions on the colour of hijabs, where no such restriction exists for other items of uniform. However, these were by no means the full extent of students’ grievances. One trans student detailed the transphobic discrimination they had received at the hands of teachers, issues of sexual assault within the sixth form have been met with dismissal from staff, and abrupt uniform changes have hit financially struggling families hard, with little compensation or sympathy from the school.
It doesn’t stop there, either: changes to the curriculum has ensured history lessons are focused on white British monarchal history, and there was no recognition given to Black History Month or the Black Lives Matter movement during last year’s protests, which was characterised by one student as “efforts… to silence Blackness”. The long-standing dispute over the union flag flown by the school was also highlighted by protestors - the flag had initially been taken down and burnt by students last September, before being replaced by a new one. The academy eventually conceded to the students’ demands, but this was a pyrrhic victory; whilst offering an olive branch in one hand, Pimlico Academy raised a dagger in the other.
To view this abhorrent behaviour as incidental is to ignore the truth of the matter: schools and the education system compose one sector of the British state superstructure, which works with the express goal of reproducing the state ideology of racial capitalism. We should not be surprised that racism, Islamophobia, transphobia or misogyny are widespread within schools, for they are not caused by a flaw in the system but the system working as planned, to marginalise those who must be marginalised for racial capitalism to continue unabated.
The threat of exclusions is also indicative of Pimlico Academy’s commitment to carceral responses to dissent. The bourgeois education system acts as a gateway to capitalist society, and to the means of living provided to the working class—jobs are reserved for those considered “qualified”, with the better opportunities going to those with the better qualifications obtained through education. Excluding students from education shuts this gateway, and thus becomes an effective tool when responding to class rebellion: listen to what we say, or you don’t get to live. Exclusions are the first step in the school-to-prison pipeline, and already disproportionately affect non-white and particularly Black students, and thus their usage should come with no surprise given what we know about this country’s education system as a deeply racist institution. This comes alongside increased legal responsibilities on schools to work to “prevent and reduce serious violence” in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which comes with a push to identify “at risk” individuals (a poorly defined designator, leading to the disproportionate targeting of oppressed communities) and for schools to work closely with policing institutions, which can only lead to further state violence against those already bearing the brunt of the state’s ire. Similarly, the PCSC Bill includes a provision for the establishment of “secure accommodation” within academies, meaning “accommodation that is provided for the purpose of restricting liberty”. These new measures, in conjunction with the actions taken by Pimlico Academy, are pointing us down a dark path as to the use of state violence in schools. Once again, this should not come as a surprise—this nation began its slide towards fascism long ago.
Most telling of all is the response from the Future Academies trust, who run Pimlico Academy. In a letter to parents of protesting students, Lord Nash, the chair of the trust and co-chair of Pimlico Academy’s governors, wrote that students involved needed to “understand the consequences of any future disobedience, which will undoubtedly result in disciplinary action”. This barely-veiled threat exposes the priorities of Nash (a Conservative life peer who in 2016 argued for the sharing of pupil nationality and country of birth status with the Home Office) and by extension the Future Academies trust: a maintaining of an unchallenged bourgeois hold over education and the ideology of racial capitalism disseminated through it, and a silencing of anyone who would dare resist that ideological dictatorship. Nash is a perfect example of entrenched bourgeois power; after a successful career in finance he was awarded a parliamentary position as a schools minister following a £300,000 donation to the Conservative party. There is no ambiguity as to where his loyalties lie—they lie very firmly with capital, and thus against any resistance towards the racist and oppressive structures which maintain capital.
Pimlico Academy’s response to the student protest was a barefaced endorsement of racial capitalism. They have made their message clear, and so we must respond in kind: we demand an end to state violence in schools, an end to the use of education as a tool of the bourgeoisie, and an end to racial capitalism. We stand firmly in solidarity with the protestors targeted by the academy, and with all students faced with racism and oppression in education.