Ted Thomas, an IWW education worker, discusses the aftermath of the Lewisham Bridge Primary School occupation
The recent success of the occupation of Lewisham Bridge Primary School, and the rise in the last year of school occupations across Britain is a significant development. The school was occupied on April 23rd when Lewisham Council decided to demolish the school and relocate its pupils. Eventually, the building was declared to have a Grade 2 Listed status on July 30th, and was saved from demolition and closure. It seems nigh time for people to start thinking about education at a more fundamental level than the usual debates about private education or state education or the recent onslaught of City Academies. Now more than ever, serious questions about what education is for and how it should be organised, should be asked.
The occupations of schools that have taken place prove that people care deeply about education and that when push comes to shove will take the initiative to fight having whatever democratic control they may have of their schools taken away. The parents of Lewisham Bridge Primary School didn’t look for a knight in shining armour to save their school, or merely politely writing to an MP askign for help. They themselves took the issue into their own hands and have won a small but important victory.
A victory like this is tiny, but it is a glimmer of hope in a country where education looks increasingly dire all the time. City academies and old-fashioned privatisation have become weapons to try and take away what control people have over their schools. More fundamentally, it is a weapon that attacks children, who are at the centre of all this.
Nowhere in the mainstream arguments about education is there any conception that children have rights. The very notion is incompatible with mainstream education, because it has largely since the 19th century been run predominantly for the benefit of capitalism. Children and students are to be molded to suit the needs of the modern marketplace; teachers are therefore to act as herdsmen. Both state and private education have in different ways served these needs.
The needs and desires of children, students and teachers in this context are largely irrelevant compared to the larger needs of the economy. This goes a long way towards explaining the almost factory-like nature of most schools. A hierarchy is imposed on children from a young age to prepare them for the rigours of the workplace. Most of the brutality that has existed in schools in the past, whether it is corporal punishment or teachers turning a blind eye to bullying, stems largely from the hierarchy of how schools are organised, and from the cynical needs of capitalism and the government.
The campaign to save Lewisham Bridge Primary School, with its ethos that ‘every child matters’ and their fight against the local council, is a good example of something quite different. Democratic and libertarian education, where the people most directly affected by decisions within their schools are the ones who make them, is the most sane and rational way for a school to be run. The children and the staff are the ones who work there, and it is they who should decide how schools are run.