Sixth form students began a 24-hour sit-in at Camden School for Girls, in north London at 9am this morning, Wednesday.
They are protesting at planned cuts to education, including increased university tuition fees. This is a new development – the vast majority of occupations have taken place in universities.
A group came out of the sit-in to talk to Socialist Worker about their protest.
“It came about after two of us went to visit the student occupation at University College London (UCL),” said Jen. “It was very inspiring. We were glad that university students were doing things, but we thought that sixth form students should take action too – because we’ll be the ones paying higher fees.”
Cathryn explained that the students had three goals. “We want the school to agree not to penalise students for taking part and to issue a press statement against fee rises,” she said.
“We also want the school to confirm that it supports the right to protest.”
Students stressed that their dispute was with the government, not the school, and said that many teachers and parents backed them. So far student occupiers have received many messages of support – including from Green MP Caroline Lucas.
“The younger kids all support us too,” said Jen. “They all walked out last time – and they will again tomorrow.”
Students are against plans to raise fees but are also concerned with many other Tory proposals. “The Tories say that they want ex-soldiers to be able to train up quickly to become teachers,” said Cathryn.
“But our teachers have years of training and are committed to teaching. The Tories just want to discipline the working class.”
Jen added, “We’re against Michael Gove’s white paper. I’m fine with discipline from trained teachers – but not from a bloody military commander!”
They also question other aspects of the coalition government. “The government says there are too many people on benefits,” said Nikki. “But if they stop people being able to get degrees, how are they supposed to get jobs?
“I want to go to university – but I won’t be able to afford it if they raise fees. Then what?”
Students reject the idea that cuts are inevitable and necessary. “A lot of people used to think that there’s not much else the government can do but make cuts,” said Jen. “But after we had a couple of UCL students and a South Bank student came to talk to us, people think differently. It was a mind-opening meeting.
“I think that, even if they do need to make cuts, they don’t need to be cuts that widen the gap between the classes and make poor people poorer.
“This is a government of the present, not the future. They’re not thinking about the future, they just want an easy way out.”
Students know that the government doesn’t have public support for its cuts – and they are buoyed by the idea that they could be taking part in the beginning of a much bigger movement.
“I don’t think we live in a democracy,” said Jen. “The Lib Dems have betrayed us – I hate them more than the Tories.”
“Britain says it’s an example of civilisation to the rest of the world,” added Nikki. “It’s bullshit.”
Students don’t have much faith in MPs listening to their voters and voting down plans to raise fees on Thursday. But that doesn’t dishearten them.
“If the vote goes through on Thursday, which I think it will, it will just escalate the fight.”
Steven agrees. “It may be a cliché but this is only the beginning of the cuts—and only the beginning of the protests.”
Names have been changed to protect students.
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