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'We shall not be moved': St Aloysius College students protest against administration of Archway school

PUBLISHED: 10:16 01 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:23 04 April 2019

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Archant

Dozens of St Aloysius College students have been protesting outside the school this morning because they are "fed up with the administration", lack of staff and strict new rules.

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College this morning. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyStudents protesting outside St Aloysius College this morning. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Some 100 kids shouting “we shall not be moved” were this morning threatened with exclusion if they did not stop the demonstration and get back to class – but parents are encouraging them to exercise their rights to protest.

The protest started outside the school gates at 8.30am and students were still holding their ground four hours later as a delegation representing the youngsters put its case in a meeting with school’s executive headteacher, Jane Heffernan.

New management and governors were brought in following the departure of long-standing head Tom Mannion last year. He was dismissed after being arrested as part of a fraud probe, but later fully cleared. Twenty staff followed him out of the school, though Ms Heffernan has said most staff changes were caused by retirement or promotions. Students from Years 10 to 13 organised the protest against Ms Heffernan for her “mistreatment of original St Aloysius staff and students”.

A typed list of demands from the students states: “We have had enough of the treatment of staff and students under the new management.

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College this morning. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyStudents protesting outside St Aloysius College this morning. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

“It is humiliating to see staff being talked down at in front of students – it is demoralising.

“We have lost too many good teachers due to mistreatment and [there have been] too many unreasonable decisions imposed.

“You have actually made us reach the point where we feel right to protest for the sake of our school and education.

“We have our exams soon and should be focusing on that.

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyStudents protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

“But here we are – we are that desperate for you to change your ways.

“We actually want our teachers when our exams come about – so stop driving them away.

“So know that we’ll protest if things do not change and until management listen to their school.

“Those who do not follow the protest correctly do not represent all of us.

Tom Mannion. Picture: Sam GelderTom Mannion. Picture: Sam Gelder

“We want to find a fair peaceful solution after today.”

Ms Heffernan told the Gazette at the picket line this morning: “We have invited a delegation to come in and talk about what it’s about.

“Exclusions are very low here.”

She added: “I’m quite happy to have a conversation about this but this is not the appropriate place to have one.”

Students protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyStudents protesting outside St Aloysius College. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

She also said the “safety of our young people” is the school’s top priority.

Joshua O’Bryan, 17, told the Gazette: “We are here to protest against the new management, because under them the school has been significantly worse.

“Under this new management there have been over 10 permanent exclusions in about 10 months.”

Ms Heffernan told the Gazette exclusion levels at the school were “very low”.

Joshua said the protest was also about budget cuts to departments including art and PE.

“A teacher told me the cuts to the art department means it has been 25 to 50 per cent of what it had last year, which is really unfair,” he said. “They’re not even able to afford glue sticks and I’m worried for my friends [who take art].

“This was organised by the students but lots of teachers support this.”

Bewildered teachers were earlier seen taking a list of all the students involved.

Elias, 16, said: “Basketball is the biggest sport in the school and [Ms Heffernan] is trying to charge us for the sports hall when it has always been free.

“She’s trying to run us into debt by charging high prices. The club has been around for so many years – it has been a huge part of my life and she’s trying to take that away just because of money. She’s trying to remove the heritage from the school.”

One 16-year-old, who didn’t give his name, said pupils in the learning support centre are treated as like “criminals” and threatened with exclusion for minor indiscretions. He also likened the new management to a “dictatorship”, a comment echoed by several other teenagers.

He added: “Exclusions can increase people’s chances to join knife crime. So by expelling kids all the time they may feel they have to go to the trap house [a drug dealing den] just to make money.”

Another pupil added: “All the good teachers are leaving. The teachers who many of us grew up with and respect are leaving because they have been undermined.

“On Friday one of the heads of year got shouted at [in front of the pupils] and it’s unfair.”

They claimed that on another occasion their geography teacher, Mr Mahmoud, had been embarrassed in front of students.

“She sent Mr Mahmoud into the corner,” claimed the teenager. “He is a full grown man with degrees.”

Hamza and Shan, both 16, said they were protesting against a school policy that bans facial hair.

“I showed them an extract of the Quran where it says you can’t shave your beard off,” said Hamza. “And she [Ms Heffernan] said: ‘That’s bulls***.’

“Mr Mannion gave us our own room to pray because he thought our religion was important as well.”

Ms Heffernan strongly denied the school has any Islamophobic policies.

Shan added: “Muslims express piety through beards. As Muslims we sit there and respect their masses and understand. We can’t even express our faith.”

Sonny, 16, a de facto spokesperson for the students, said: “She [Ms Heffernan} recently excluded one of our mates [after he was] stabbed 10 times, about two or three weeks ago, around Cally.

“The stabbing was the catalyst but this [the protest] has been in the mix for ages.”

Fawaz, 16, said he’d recently been excluded without “being given a chance” to improve his grades and behaviour.

He claimed Ms Heffernan “tricked” his family into thinking he was only going to attend her other school, Cardinal Pole, in Morning Lane, Hackney, for “a week or two” – but Fawaz alleges this was a lie, and he now attends the school full-time.

“So many teachers have left,” said Ared Suma. “And many students are left for entire periods without a single teacher teaching them. It’s resulting in our grades going down. She cares more about saving money than hiring staff to help us with our GCSEs.”

One told the Gazette: “We’re doing what we think is right. We’re trying to get as much media coverage as possible in order to free our school from her and the newer teachers.”

Parent Ilkay Oner, whose 14-year-old son – a Year 10 student – was taking part, said she received a phone call from the school saying if he didn’t stop within half-an-hour he would be excluded for the day.

“I said: ‘Tell the head of year that she or the head are more than welcome to exclude my son if it is simply because of his democratic right to protest, and I will take it up with the governors.’

“It’s a peaceful protest – they are just fed up with the administration. I believe they are deliberately failing these kids. They are so fixated on petty behaviour rules. If their top button is undone, detention. If they smile, detention.

“My son is in detention every day. He’s never been in trouble and was a model student at primary school who won the citizenship award.”

The protest follows an Ofsted report from November that found the school “requires improvement”. Inspectors said teaching had “not been good enough to ensure pupils make strong progress across subjects” and “teachers do not routinely plan activities that meet pupils’ needs”.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, which runs the school, has been approached for a fuller response to the students’ allegations.

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