At 10.30am on Wednesday, at the height of the mass walkout by hundreds of pupils at Pimlico Academy, a video was posted on Twitter of headmaster Daniel Smith inside the school.
Filmed from behind, Mr Smith can be seen hurriedly walking along a corridor being relentlessly pursued by a male student, it is believed, who is remonstrating with him and filming the encounter with a camera phone.
‘What do you have to say about the protest, Mr Smith?’ a young voice can be heard shouting aggressively. ‘Stop walking away . . . Where are you going?
The footage, lasting ten seconds, ends with his quarry disappearing into a room without answering any of his ‘questions’.
Pictured: Parents and police wait outside the school gates as school children demonstrate in the playground of Pimlico Academy, London and refuse to attend class over racism concerns
Roger Cook, the famed TV investigator, used to chase villains in much the same way.
It is hard, though, to remember a serving headteacher, and one with such an impressive CV, being humiliated and hounded as though he were a common criminal.
The video — posted under the headline The #pimlicoacademy head is inside the building. Shame on him!!! — has been seen more than 130,000 times and epitomises the chaotic scenes which unfolded at the school, in London’s leafy Pimlico, this week.
‘Good grief, and people wonder why the UK has fallen,’ declared one astonished viewer, who surely summed up the feelings of the silent majority. ‘When I was at school, we treated teachers with respect. We didn’t chase them down the corridor, haranguing them.’
Is there anyone but the protesters themselves — aided and abetted by teachers from the militant National Education Union (NEU) — who would disagree?
They have accused Pimlico Academy of racism, Islamophobia and transphobia, for introducing a uniform policy that discriminated against pupils with afros and hijabs; a curriculum that focused on Caucasian kings and queens; and flying the Union flag outside the school without any notice or reason — apart from the fact that the flag (the flag of this country, let’s not forget) is often flown outside public buildings, including schools.
Yet other educational establishments have adopted identical or very similarly worded policies without a word of protest.
The rules were ‘utterly unremarkable’ and ‘reasonable’, according to Tom Bennett, a government adviser on classroom discipline, who wrote on Twitter: ‘Anyone getting vexed by this must lead a life untroubled by care or cogent thought.’
Another less publicised complaint levelled against the school is in a petition circulating online, with scores of signatures, demanding the removal of the headteacher.
Among the reasons cited, apart from the uniform code, was that Oxford-educated Mr Smith had ‘painted all walls white . . . removing Pimlico Academy’s pride’.
Pictured: The Union flag was no longer flying at Pimlico Academy in London today following a revolt by pupils, who demanded it be removed
Was this a reference to the fact, alluded to by some parents, that hallways and classrooms had been stripped of artwork, or that the choice of white as the colour allegedly has racist overtones?
We asked the organiser of the petition, the mother of a Pimlico pupil, via social media, but did not receive a response.
Either way, during the rebellion — sorry, protest — students holding Black Lives Matter banners, chanting ‘We want change’, vandalised school signs and property with graffiti such as ‘PIMLICO ACADEMY RUN BY RACISTS… FOR PROFIT’; ‘White schools for brown kids, are u mad’; and ‘Ain’t no black in the Union Jack’.
The demo, resulting in criminal damage, was carried out, just to remind you, with the full approval and encouragement of members of the NEU, who would doubtless have enjoyed seeing the shameful video clip of Mr Smith being ‘doorstepped’ in his own school.
The tactics worked.
The Union flag has been taken down and will not be flown again until a review has been concluded — a move condemned by local MPs — and a number of other school policies have also been revised with further changes promised after the Easter holiday.
Pimlico, in the City of Westminster, is the latest school to acquiesce under outside pressure.
Pictured: A police officer outside Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist. Picture date: Wednesday March 31
Only last month, a teacher at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire was suspended after parents protested against him allegedly showing their children a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during a religious studies lesson,
The family of the teacher said he’d subsequently gone into hiding and was in fear of his life after his name was leaked online.
A petition calling for him to be reinstated has now passed 67,000 signatures. In response to the row, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, defended the right to free speech. Controversies such as this have coincided with the growth of ‘cancel culture’ and the campaign to ‘decolonise’ what students are taught — ‘to confront the harmful legacy of colonialism,’ to quote the Guardian newspaper — which has spread from universities to schools such as Pimlico Academy.
The appointment of Mr Smith, who took over as head at the start of this academic year last September, was potentially always going to be challenging.
He is a traditionalist who had portraits of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, as well as the Union flag, above his desk when he was vice principal at Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent; a former colleague said he was only interested in ‘discipline and exam results’, which improved markedly during his tenure.
Pimlico Academy, on the other hand, is dominated by a Left-leaning teaching staff and has a catchment area that includes not just the well-to-do streets of Westminster and Belgravia, but also housing estates in Lambeth and Vauxhall.
Students holding Black Lives Matter banners, chanting ‘We want change’, vandalised school signs and property with graffiti such as ‘PIMLICO ACADEMY RUN BY RACISTS… FOR PROFIT’; ‘White schools for brown kids, are u mad’; and ‘Ain’t no black in the Union Jack’
According to the last Ofsted report in 2011, a quarter of the school’s 1,200 pupils were of white British heritage, and the largest minority ethnic groups were Black Caribbean and Black African.
Mr Smith immediately set about introducing a ‘back to basics’ regime, overseen by the school’s parent academy chain, which is chaired by Conservative peer Lord Nash, whose stockbroker wife, Caroline, is also on the governing board.
In a letter to parents, the new head said Pimlico would be ‘characterised by the highest expectations of conduct and achievement for all’, and urged everyone to ‘row together’, quoting the academy’s motto of ‘Libertas per cultum’ which means ‘Freedom through education’.
Trouble flared from the start. Within weeks of his arrival, the police were called in after children took down the Union flag that had been put up outside the school.
The flag was taken to Churchill Gardens, a housing estate nearby where more than half of the pupils live, and set alight.
There was widespread opposition, meanwhile, to the new code which required that, for all students, ‘hair must be maintained in a conventional and understated style’ and they were warned that hairstyles ‘that hide the face or may block the view of others in class’ would not be permitted. If headscarves were worn, they had to be ‘black or navy blue’ — not too colourful, in other words — and ‘look conventional’.
Daniel Smith, whose students staged a walk-out at the Pimlico Academy school in a rebellion against his ‘back to basics’ policies. He was seen in a video being chased by a student
A cursory Google search revealed that Pimlico Academy had simply mirrored the protocols of a number of other schools.
No matter — pupils accused the school management of racism, insisting the new policy would penalise Muslims and anyone with an afro hairstyle.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was an unequivocal fact, given the noise on social media and the coverage in Leftist newspapers, rather than an allegation, claim or belief that, however sincerely held, is disputed.
One of those dissenting voices belongs to Tom Bennett, a former teacher and author, who has advised the Department for Education on how to tackle unruly behaviour in schools, and leads a team of advisers working for the department’s new ‘behaviour hubs’ to share best practices on discipline, who said the rules could encompass a range of hairstyles including afros, top-knots and mohicans.
‘All uniform codes police hair to some extent,’ he tweeted. ‘Mandating that it cannot obstruct hair etc seems fairly sensible and cross-cultural.’
The unrest at Pimlico, which began with the flag-burning in September, rumbled on over the months and culminated in Wednesday’s walkout — the same day the Government’s race review concluded that Britain’s educational system was not institutionally racist.
A coincidence. Perhaps not.
The school playground was packed full of students after they refused to take part in lessons
Outside the school gates, one mother, who did not wish to give her name, said: ‘Non-white pupils feel they are not treated the same as white pupils. In the end, they had to protest. That’s why us mums are here supporting them.’
It did not take long for the academy to buckle.
Hairstyles must still be ‘conventional’, but the word ‘understated’, for example, has been removed and there is no reference to ‘blocking the views of others’ in the redrafted code.
More changes have been promised next term.
What cannot be understated is the influence of the NEU, formerly the National Union of Teachers. Around 100 of Pimlico Academy’s teaching staff — the majority — belong to the NEU.
It was the NEU, you may remember, which blocked teachers from hosting live online lessons during lockdown, claiming that streaming classes from their homes was an invasion of their privacy.
NEU members at Pimlico have passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Smith and voted to take steps towards a ballot for industrial action because, they said, there have been ‘serious failures of management’ which are ‘bringing the school into disrepute’.
A demonstrator outside the school gates holds up a sign reading: ‘I stand with Pimlico students’
The events at Pimlico present a challenge to traditional Conservative education reforms similar to those promoted by former Education Secretary Michael Gove, which were also opposed by the teaching unions.
Mr Gove once memorably referred to them as The Blob — a section of society in thrall to liberal Sixties ideology that, just like the alien mass inspired by the cult 1958 sci-fi film, has been impossible to stop.
Nowhere was The Blob’s progressive grip stronger than at Pimlico School, as it was until 2008.
Its alumni include William Miller, son of polymath Sir Jonathan Miller; the PR executive Matthew Freud; and Amy Jenkins, the novelist and scriptwriter stepdaughter of Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee.
Former Labour Home and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sent his two children there and was later chairman of its governors.
In a statement in the aftermath of the protest, head Mr Smith said the school had ‘listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community’, adding: ‘Sixth form students 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 policies taking place.’
He also acknowledged that the Union flag often evokes ‘intense reactions’ which is why it had been taken down pending a review.
Few expect it to be flying outside Pimlico Academy again, however.
A victory for pupil power — or mob rule whipped up by a militant union?