While many school children were last week relishing days off due to the snow, pupils from one Lewisham school were eager to return after a nine month absence.
Parents, teachers, and pupils of Lewisham Bridge Primary school were delighted to see the end of Lewisham council’s two-year long plans to demolish the school, as young students eagerly awaited the opening of school gates for the first time since last April.
Lewisham council had been planning to both restructure Lewisham Bridge into an all-age school and hand it over to a private body, in what many parents saw as a New Labourite policy of stimulating competition for school places in order to improve league tables.
Last Easter, the pupils were put on coaches and taken to the Mornington Centre in New Cross, where they continued with their lessons as the council began working on the site.
“Every step of the way we were ignored”, said Eleanor Davies, parent at the school, as hundreds of parents fought, argued, and battled against the council to prevent privatisation. “So finally we decided we’d had enough.”
Along with two other parents, Ms. Davies occupied the roof of the school one morning in April, and began a campaign that spread rapidly. Entitled: “Hands Off Lewisham Bridge”, it subsequently attracted support from the National Union of Teachers, University and College Union, and neighbouring Goldsmiths students.
At the same time, other members of the community started working on registering the school as a listed building, to prevent the council from knocking it down. In light of such opposition, Lewisham council admitted defeat and finally re-opened the school.
Campaigns such as this have been taking place all over the UK in protest at government plans to privatise and cut education services, with most parents desperate to keep schools intact.
Many have criticised the lack of strike action from the NUT. “The one thing that was missing from our campaign, which would have made victory much easier, was solidarity industrial action from the NUT”, Ms Davies said. “The NUT in Lewisham, in spite of some teachers coming to support us, delivered no action from the teachers in the school itself”, she added.
Martin Powell- Davies, Secretary of the NUT sympathized: “I can see Eleanor’s frustration, because if we would have taken strike action, it would have strengthened the parent’s campaign”, he said, “but the teachers were reluctant to do so, and we couldn’t convince them. It’s certainly not because we didn’t support the campaign”.
Lewisham council have indicated that they will forge ahead with their plans for Lewisham Bridge, despite their recent defeat. But parents at the school are ready to continue the fight.
“We do not want our children to be turned into commodities or consumers of education”, Ms Davies said. “It is not about controlling young people, but defending state education and fighting for the real socialist education we need for all our children’s futures”.