Hundreds of parents, pupils and teachers converged on Bury town hall last week to stop the closures of Prestwich, Broad Oak and Derby high schools.
The magnificent demonstration and meeting showed the strength of feeling and convinced the council executive to reconsider its plans.
Students from the threatened schools played a decisive role in the protest. They blocked the road outside the town hall for half an hour, shouting and chanting, and made sure everyone could see the banner and placards that they had made.
We found out what their head teacher meant by a “dignified and responsible protest” when he went into the road with them to organise the shouting effectively.
Faced with the option of calling the police to remove children and teachers from the road in front of the local media, or moving the meeting to a big enough hall to accommodate everyone who had come to make their views known, the council moved the meeting.
During the meeting governors and head teachers from the three schools exposed the inconsistencies in the councillors’ arguments.
It was pointed out that these three schools had the highest number of children with free school dinners in the area, and the greatest proportion of ethnic minorities.
The predominantly white and middle class schools have been left untouched. This point was made most forcibly by the head of maths at Prestwich Arts College, an ex-firefighter who had been central to the mobilisation at his school.
One parent made a particularly moving speech about his daughter, who despite some physical disabilities walks to her local school, and visits both sets of grandparents on her way home. He said that this would be impossible if they shut the local school.
The students were the stars of the evening. Clearly unhappy with the way the leader of the council had only been allowing adults to speak, they queued up in the aisle in the middle of the hall until he could no longer ignore them.
They all spoke in favour of their schools. The last to speak said that although the councillors promised that they were in listening mode, their body language clearly showed that they weren’t, since they had been playing with their phones all evening. To wild applause, he said, “If that’s the best you can do, there’s the door.”
The councillors realised that they had to retreat. They left the room for a “ten minute” break. When they came back after half an hour they announced that they were not accepting the plan to close the schools and were commissioning a further report.
They made it clear that this was a temporary retreat and that they would return to the issue when this report was done.