Pimlico academy head agrees to take down Union flag following student protests
The headteacher of a school embroiled in a row over uniform rules, which it is claimed discriminate against Muslim and black students, has agreed to take down the Union flag amid protests from pupils.
Daniel Smith, principal of Pimlico Academy in London, has said the flag will not be flown outside the school while it undertakes a review into the matter.
The head has also agreed to look at updating the PSHE curriculum and he said aspects of the academy’s uniform policy had been revised following concerns.
The move came after scores of pupils chanted “we want change” and walked out of class early on Wednesday in protest against the school’s leadership.
National Education Union (NEU) members from the school also “overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence in the head teacher and to move towards a ballot for industrial action” on Tuesday night.
We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions
An indicative ballot is scheduled to be held after the Easter break, which could lead to strikes.
A new uniform policy ushered in by the head last year, which said that hairstyles that “block the view of others” would not be allowed, and hijabs “should not be too colourful”, sparked the protests.
Last September, a Union flag erected outside the school was also ripped down and set alight by pupils, according to The Guardian, while the walls of the academy were also vandalised with graffiti over the weekend, with messages including “ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.
In a statement, Mr Smith said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
On the school uniform, he added: “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.”
The redrafted uniform policy says hair must be maintained “in a conventional style”, but there is no mention of styles that “block the view of others”.
It adds that headscarves and turbans must be black or navy blue, but there is no mention of “colourful”.
In the statement following the protests, Mr Smith added: “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.”
Martin Donohue, the NEU’s London regional officer, who is dealing with the dispute, said: “Pimlico Academy NEU members expressed solidarity with students’ concerns that gave rise to the demonstration and are proud of the mature and responsible way in which they handled themselves.
“We would welcome their concerns being genuinely addressed. However members’ concerns have not been resolved and remain, including unacceptable management style, serious failures of management and failure to provide a safe working environment.
“Members will be holding an indicative ballot after Easter to try and resolve these continuing serious concerns.”