4 years ago, the late, great socialist icon that is Tony Benn addressed the Burston Rally in rural Norfolk. The rally is an annual event to commemorate “the longest strike in history”, where Tom and Annie Higdon defied the local authorities to open a ‘strike school’, after being sacked for agitating for better study and work conditions. They stood alongside 66 of their 72 students and their parents, and hand in hand with the community against their unfair dismissal – and they won. And at that year’s rally, Tony drew one vital lesson from that past struggle for those facing the inhuman austerity cuts of this decade — “Tie your ropes together.”
In the face of an unelected Tory regime, hell-bent on slashing disability benefits, privatising our education system, and in the process of razing our National Health Service to the ground, the multitude must stand united against this bare-faced tyranny. We may be affected differently to the separate cuts within each of our lives, but if we are to overcome them, and to build a society of dignity and freedom for all, we must recognise the common ideology that underpins each austerity measure.
On Sunday night, over one-hundred parents, teachers, students and community activists packed the St Alban’s Church Hall to discuss the plight of another Norfolk School in the here-and-now.
focused exclusively on robotically passing exams, whilst the curriculum — and the students — “lack humanity”.
Hewett, the last state comprehensive in Norwich, is currently in line to become an academy, run by the infamous Inspiration Trust — who have a litany of government connections and vested interests in their boardroom. Impassioned speeches from the floor included a former head teacher of another of the Trust’s victims, who stated the teaching at her old school had deteriorated dramatically, and was focused exclusively on robotically passing exams, whilst the curriculum — and the students — “lack humanity”.
Another teacher from a rural school that had already fought off academisation stated that the proposed changes would see arts and humanities become unprofitable optional extras, whilst schools would become “factory lines”, churning out students with business-oriented skills to attract private sponsors. Other contributions noted the shameless attempt to gear a school built “by the city” and taxpayer’s money toward operating to profit a few well-connected privateers, and also the shadow of the similar privatisation of the Edith Cavell Primary School — which the County Council did nothing to prevent
Whilst this time, the Council have pledged to fight the top-down process being forced upon the Hewett, which would also see decreased employment rights for teachers, that is not where the battle to save the school’s soul will be won though.
On Saturday 14th at 12 noon, at the War Memorial outside City Hall, a demonstration will gather in support of the school, its teachers, parents and students. They need not stand alone.
Three years ago, when students at the University of East Anglia fought hard against £9k tuition fees, Hewett students were amongst groups across the county who marched with us. Now we at UEA must repay the favour, and encourage others to do likewise.
They need not stand alone.
Norfolk has a proud history of defying the status-quo, of railing against landlords, kings and governments in the interest of our shared future; but without humanity, accountability, and democracy in our education system — and in our newly privatised society as a whole — though, that stands to be a bleak shared future indeed. Now more than ever then, like the community of Burston rallying to the support of Tom and Annie, we must stand with Hewett. In this age of austerity, when so many of us stand to lose so much in the name of an economic crisis we did not create, students, workers, activists of all shapes, sizes, creeds and colours must “tie our ropes together.”