Students at Pimlico Academy in London stage protest over new headteacher’s ‘racist’ uniform policy

Pupils’ list of demands which school ‘agreed to’  

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.

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Mutiny erupted at a London school today as pupils protested against the new head’s ‘back to basics’ regime, with calls for u-turns on policies to toughen up discipline and adopt a traditional history curriculum emphasising kings and queens – as teachers caved in to demands to take down the Union flag.    

Hundreds of pupils and parents gathered outside Pimlico Academy this morning holding Black Lives Matter flags and chanting ‘we want change’ as several police officers watched on. The protest – which took place just three weeks after schools returned – was originally meant to take place on a football pitch in the grounds, but this was allegedly locked shut by staff. 

Opposition, which includes staff threats to strike, was originally focused on a uniform regime, introduced by new head Daniel Smith last August that banned hairstyles that ‘block people’s view’. Critics claimed this would penalise Muslims and people with Afro hairstyles at a school where three quarters of children are from ethnic minorities. 

But the rebellion has now extended to include other policies viewed as ‘discriminatory’ by the protesters, including changes to the history curriculum to make it more chronological, which protesters say emphasises white kings and queens over BAME figures. 

The British flag was removed and burnt by pupils in September before being put back up, and on the weekend anti-flag graffiti appeared on the school walls reading ‘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 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 – today released an extraordinary 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. 

In a long list of demands, they complained about changes to the uniform policy, including an alleged 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 Mr 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.

Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith

A poster advertising the student walk out

A poster advertising the student walk out

The National Education Union, which represents the school’s teachers, was due to hold a vote of no confidence in new head Daniel Smith (left) last night ahead of today’s walkout (right, a poster advertising the event)

The Union flag that usually flies outside the school all year round. Teachers today agreed to take it down pending a 'review'

The Union flag that usually flies outside the school all year round. Teachers today agreed to take it down pending a 'review'

The Union flag that usually flies outside the school all year round. Teachers today agreed to take it down pending a ‘review’  

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

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

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

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.

 

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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.’

Speaking this 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. It is not clear if any teachers attended the protest today. 

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 today, 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 same flag was previously taken down and burned by pupils last September.

Students claim that concerns over the flag, and recognition of Black Lives Matter or Black History Month have also been repeatedly ignored by school bosses. 

In a petition, the students claimed the uniform policy would penalise Muslims and those with afro hairstyles and demanded a change. 

A statement accompanying the petition said: ‘We as students have the right to express ourselves however we choose, and also have the right to have our natural hair weather it be big hair small hair or loads of facial hair or no facial hair. We should be able to show our shoulders without ‘distracting the boys’.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sign covered in anti-fascism and anti-racism stickers outside Pimlico Academy School

A sign covered in anti-fascism and anti-racism stickers outside Pimlico Academy School

A sign covered in anti-fascism and anti-racism stickers outside Pimlico Academy School

A sit-down protest was held at the school this morning against its controversial uniform policy

A police officer outside Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students have staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist

A police officer outside Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students have staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist

A police officer outside Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students have staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist

Officers stand outside the gates of the school this morning during the demonstration

Officers stand outside the gates of the school this morning during the demonstration

Officers stand outside the gates of the school this morning during the demonstration

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier this morning

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier this morning

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier this morning

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier this morning

Students packed out the school playground for the protest earlier this morning

‘We should be able to wear jewellery as some can be sentimental. We should be able to wear any coloured Hijabs we want as its part of a lot of people’s religion. 

‘We should be able to have a clothing option for people who don’t want to conform to a gender. We should be able to wear as much make up as we like as it improves self confidence.

‘From year 11 up, we are more worried about what is going to happen to exams and grades. We don’t want clothing changes, we want reassurance for our learning. 

‘We still have no idea what’s going to happen during this pandemic, yet we know what clothes we can and cannot wear? This only adds more pressure to us to get new clothes and conform to the dress code.’ 

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.  

Videos of pupils taking action at Pimlico Academy in Westminster, central London , have gone viral on social media, being shared hundreds of times

Videos of pupils taking action at Pimlico Academy in Westminster, central London , have gone viral on social media, being shared hundreds of times

Videos of pupils taking action at Pimlico Academy in Westminster, central London , have gone viral on social media, being shared hundreds of times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.’ 

Daniel Smith said today following the protests: ‘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 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.’

Headteacher’s 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 murder 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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