An impressive crowd of ghouls, ghosts, devils and witches gathered outside Darlington Town Hall this Halloween, in order to remind councillors that their proposals to privatise local education provision were nothing short of monstrous.
Organised by Save Hurworth and Rural Education (Share), “The Blair Ditch Project” demonstration saw several community groups—as well as a delegation from the local government worker’s union Unison, coming together to protest against the New Labour authority’s sweeping changes to the town’s infrastructure. The central issue, however, remained the proposed amalgamation of two schools and their replacement with a city ccademy, and students from both Hurworth and Eastbourne schools were on hand to lend their support.
Share activist and part time witch Sheila Draper told Socialist Worker that, despite the council’s best efforts to divide them, parents and pupils of both schools were beginning to find a common purpose: “Some of the kids here today are from Eastbourne”, she notes, “they didn’t know what an academy was. They didn’t have a clue.”
But, thanks largely to the efforts of Share and its high-profile campaign there are signs this is changing—as Jill Russell, the group’s secretary commented: “We’re getting more of the teachers, parents and pupils of Eastbourne on side, as they’re finding out more and more about these academies.”
And what these academies are about is, says local Unison union secretary Alan Docherty, the hiving off of public assets to big business—to the detriment of workers, students, and the local community: “For a small sum of money millionaires, businessmen and fundamentalist Christian organisations can be given a school and its site. And that allows them to run the school and put their own ethics on it, break away from national pay and conditions and effectively undermine what we have been fighting for.” What they have been fighting for, says Alan (standing in front of a banner strung across the entrance way, announcing: ‘Danger—may contain nuts’), is decent jobs, democratic control and the delivery of a good education.
As the darkness descended over Darlington town hall a cavalcade of horn-blowing taxi drivers, angered over changes to their trade without consultation, joined parents and supporters in a deafening demonstration of civic unity—crawling round and round the town centre until it became gridlocked, much to the delight of cheering school students lined up along the roadside.
Councillors and executives leaving work were forced to sit in their vehicles and endure the taunting of the protesters. It was left to Sheila, her face a picture of sober determination despite a thick covering of grease paint and cobwebs, to sum up the feelings of her community: “I know for a fact the feelings of the people of Darlington, and they don’t want us to lose. They are very, very, angry at the council for different reasons, and they say it’s about time people had a go, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to win—we’re going to keep our school.”