by Hannah Rose
Who is your political role model? Mandela? Aung San Suu Kyi? I choose Harriet Martineau— one of Norwich’s very own, and the first female sociologist. But in a Year 11 assembly at The Hewett Academy on the 8th March (International Women’s Day), none other than Donald Trump was advocated as a role model for self-belief – and one that students should be taking notes from if they want to pass their exams. Forget Martin Luther King and forget Emmeline Pankhurst, please welcome to the stage the man who called for the complete shutdown of Muslim immigration, and whose political speeches are a gutter-stream of bigotry. Hewett Vice-Principal Antony Little (former Conservative local councillor) might equate Trump’s success to inimitable self-confidence, but others might put it down to simply having more money than sense. The truth – or at least a key part of it – is that Donald Trump does not have magical reserves of self-belief. He has simply been seduced by the skewed fantasy of himself.
Sadly, the Trump incident does not surprise me. It is in keeping with the attack of left-wing values that the Tories are inflicting with their plans to turn all local authority schools into Academies run by corporate chains. Further analysis of this can be read in Cadi Cliff’s recent article in the Norwich Radical about the dismantling of England’s education system.
The fact that the bleached billionaire made it onto the assembly platform on International Women’s Day makes the Hewett assembly moment all the more distasteful. Bypassing the opportunity to celebrate a female icon, in a world where 50% of women are held back in their career progression because of a lack of self-belief, put the controversial Inspiration Trust academy chain under public scrutiny again when the EDP ran the story that week. The VP defended his choice of example, saying “the assembly was to highlight the importance of confidence and was not an endorsement of his views.” Still, there are a multitude of heroes and heroines that Little could have singled out to help spur along Year 11 students on their academic journey. Even Margaret Thatcher would have been less unpalatable. Is the Hewett vice-principal without principles?
The Trump incident would be darkly comic if it weren’t so indicative of the reckless attitude the Inspiration Trust adopted when it took the school out of local authority control. Trumpgate, which happened on March 8th, is simply another sorry chapter in Hewett’s bruising tale.
Local democracy was crushed in the decision-making process, despite overwhelming community backlash to the plans.
2015 was a turbulent year for the old Hewett School community, which campaigned hard against the decision to turn it into Academy after its Ofsted report in October 2014 rated the school inadequate. Local democracy was crushed in the decision-making process, despite overwhelming community backlash to the plans. Consultation forums were poorly advertised and online surveys were hard to access. Hundreds of Norwich residents took to the streets to protest and 1,300 people signed the petition to save it from academy conversion. I attended a public meeting at the Hewett School in August last year, along with parents, students, teachers, councillors and local residents, who all spoke eloquently and passionately about the school’s role in the community—a school hugely respected for its integrity towards inclusivity and an inspiring creative arts programme.
When I was perusing the new Hewett Academy website, one thing stood out as being characteristic of how deeply this neoliberal ideology runs — or rows, to be exact. Yes, rowing. The Hewett Academy is now promoting itself as a centre for sporting excellence – complete with a new rowing academy. Students are being primed for training in order to compete against the country’s top rowing schools. The website boasts ‘The creation of an elite rowing programme to rival the best schools in the country’ — the likes of private and independent schools such as Abingdon in Oxfordshire, Eton College and Westminster School. Now I have nothing against rowing. It’s fine if you want to propel yourself along the water with sticks whilst somebody shouts at you. Really, go for it if that’s your thing. But this obsession with winning, of aspiring to be like ‘elite’ Westminster satellite schools that only have places for the rich and the very rich, feels wrong – wrong for the Hewett School and for its community. It simply doesn’t fit with its identity as a inclusive comprehensive, where it doesn’t matter if you don’t win at everything.
if one considers that the Hewett Academy’s Principal used to row for his college in Cambridge, things start to look a little clearer
Where did this sudden rowing fervour come from? It definitely did not come from joint consultation with parents and students. However, if one considers that the Hewett Academy’s Principal used to row for his college in Cambridge, things start to look a little clearer. This move towards rowing highlights a broader ideological move towards tribalism and competition at the Hewett. This is in turn symbolic of the move to take education out of local control and into a corporate market – echoed by Jeremy Corbyn at the NUT conference, when he described forced academisation as an “ideological attack.”
Both the Academy’s mention of Donald Trump and its newfound fascination with rowing reverberate with a neoliberal subtext that focuses on the idea of bettering oneself by being a ‘winner’ – no matter who gets trodden on in the process. Trump has been proselytising about winning for months now. “We’ll have so much winning you’ll be bored with winning,” he said to a crowd at a Tea Party-sponsored event. Using him as an example for students to aspire to is as empty and inane as that quote. It could even be said that it is almost as inane as pushing (or rowing, as the case may be) your school down the route of trying to emulate older, more famous institutions in a blind attempt to gain academic prestige.
Featured image © Antony Kelly