Tempers flare as hundreds gather at Lancaster school protest meeting

Teachers, pupils and parents packed out Lancaster Town Hall for an emergency meeting over academies and SATS tests.

Friday, 29th April 2016, 11:03 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2016, 3:11 pm
Crowds at the public meeting last night (April 28)

Around 200 people gathered at the meeting last night (April 28) in protest over the new national tests and government’s plans to turn all schools into academies by 2022.

Emotions ran high as many spoke out in defiance ahead of the planned strike-of-action on Tuesday May 3.

Thousands of parents have joined local Facebook group, Lancaster District Parents 3 May strike, and are planning to take their children out of school next week in protest over SATS.

Near the start, crowds beginning to gather at the public meeting.

Concerns were raised over children’s health, mental well-being, and happiness as parents slammed the government and its Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Angela Cokel, teacher at Sandylands Primary School in Morecambe, said: “I went to Sandlylands and it was the happiest time of my life. I remember my dad saying to me, make the most of it, school is the happiest time of your life, how many of our children can say that?

“School is supposed to be fun, a place where you can feel safe, a place where you are told you are brilliant, I don’t ever remember being told I was a failure.”

The new tests have come under fire from teachers and parents. So much so that one ten-year-old schoolgirl stood up in desperation at the meeting.

Near the start, crowds beginning to gather at the public meeting.

She said: “Me and the rest of the people in my class we used to be at the top and now we feel really bad on what we are being forced to do and what the teachers are being forced to do.”

The fear continued as another parent said: “I am a parent of a two-year-old son, thank you for all for doing this for our children, it really frightens me that my son will be going into this system, being tested over and over again and will have all the joy stamped out of him.”

Pleas to take back the education system and keep children’s interests at heart were shouted out.

Siobhan Collingwood, headteacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, said there has been a 200 per cent increase in children being referred to counselling because of this regime and compared SATS week to “selling her soul to the devil”.

She said: “SATS week is when I sell my soul to the devil.

“I pat children on the back as they are crying, telling them they really need to do these tests, when I know they are nonsense and that was in the past, this is even worse.

“It is a complete set of rubbish.

“We are all here tonight because we believe in children and the sanctity of childhood, we are all here because we want to pursue children’s right to education.

“I came into teaching to nurture children, not label them as a complete failure. I do feel like those two men in the crows nest on Titanic, when they think there is something wrong and I think I am probably being paid about as much attention to as well.

“Stop testing our children to death, stop narrowing our curriculum, hands off our schools Nicky Morgan.”

Academies - schools which are directly funded by the Department for Education and independent of local authority control - were a hot topic.

Michael Gibson, a former school governor and parent, said schools should not be run by businesses.

He said: “As a parents I know turning Dallas Road School into an academy will not benefit my son or the school.

“There is no role for businesses to run schools.

“I have been working in the business industry for 20 years, yes businesses should be able to help but the idea that some businesses are better at running schools is a complete fallacy. I think it is time headteachers are given the freedom to let our kids be kids so they can fulfil their potential in life.”

Children’s author Alan Gibbons explained his daughter is also feeling the pressure.

He said: “My daughter, she got a first in her degree, outstanding in all her classes and she has got to tell parents of four-year-olds that they are failing. This is insane.

“Academies are removing children that don’t fit. Half of our young teachers are leaving the profession, some of our best are bailing.”

Another teacher in training said that of the 58 people on her course only 20 want to go into the profession.

A lot of parents said they feared for the future of their children’s education, but remain hopeful that the strike and continued meetings will have an effect.

Lucy Ellis, speaking after the meeting, said: “I thought the meeting was amazing. My son is in year six, he will be sitting the SATS, he has asperger’s, he will have to retake them until he passes, that is what this government is doing.

“He tells me he is scared and feels sad but he can’t get the support to answer the questions. I hope forced academies don’t happen, I hope stands like this will happen all over the place, enough is enough.”

On Saturday April 30 the National Union of Teachers will be holding a May Day March meeting in Dalton Square at 11.30am.

The planned strike will take place on May 3 and parents are meeting at Williamson Park, Lancaster from 11am-3pm, where there will be education workshops.

On May 4 headteachers and parents will travel to London to lobby the government over academies and SATS.

On May 7 there will be an alternative classrooms event in Market Square, Lancaster from 11am-1pm.

On May 14 there will be another meeting at Manchester Art Gallery at 1pm for parents against academisation.