Monday, 3 March 2014

An Interview with the Trash

Avid readers of local news will have last week seen a two page spread in the Ham and High of an interview with us (link here). However lovely the article, we thought it only just for us to publish the interview in its unrefined entirety, as follows:

You’ve all recently celebrated one year of the Hampstead Trash – what have been the highlights from the last year?
Remaining founders: Firstly, the initial set up of the blog, as that was a lot of fun to do, and also it set in stone from the outset what we wanted to achieve.
All: The SLUDGE obituary article, which got Kinnan, our former leader, in quite a bit of hot water, was fun to read, and the media and public attention, that we came to know as Trashgate, that it brought with it reaffirmed and solidified what the blog was about. Equally, Mailmerge, as it has been dubbed, was a turning point for the blog, as it proved that, whilst still being largely satirical and about the student voice, we were here as well to show the school in its true colours, and to openly correct the misgivings that have been able to occur without the presence of the blog.

How does it feel to reach the one year anniversary, in a year where your editor Kinnan was reported to police by the school after revealing his identity on the blog.
It feels like a true achievement, despite all the ups and downs. Certainly Kinnan being treated in such a malicious way by the management made us feel that he had been unjustly treated, and also made us fearful that for doing the right thing, we would be punished. However, this made us even more determined in continuing our work, until Hampstead is a school where free speech of this level is openly accepted.

What are some of your plans for the blog in the next year?
 We don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but with a year under our belt, we are striving even harder to build an open forum for student views to be heard and seriously considered, since the current School Council has continued to be inept and have little motivation to generate any true change. We also want to involve students more with school activities, as there is currently a silent majority that have no representation.
Finally, we are making plans to motivate students in other schools, that have to suffer the same problems, to do as we have done, with our guidance, as we believe the problems we experience are not unique.

How long have you all been involved  with the blog? Since the beginning?
The Editorial Team were founding members along with Kinnan, so we have been here since the start, and have taken the helm since he has left. The other writers have come to write in the months since Trashgate, when there was a surge of student opinion as a result.

Why did you get involved with this blog in the first place?
The Hampstead Trash Blog started up as an idea for a Student Union, alike the ones in Universities, after a general discontent over the decisions by the school's Senior Management. This idea  never picked up, and for almost a year after, nothing was done.

In February 2013, Kinnan, along with the founder members, thought of a Blog, to satirise the school, alike how Private Eye satirises Parliament. It was also founded to act much like a student newspaper for the school, since our student newspaper currently stands at one issue, that had many issues, the main one being it having nothing to do with the school (e.g the whole page of One Direction fan fiction).
The newer writers, whilst still believing in the same goals and general principles that the founding members carry, maintain that they are part of the blog to exercise their free speech, or to satirise events that they personally have found worth satirising.

After you all saw the school’s action against Kinnan, do you have any concerns that involvement on the blog will come back to haunt you further down the line, say at uni or in your careers?
A quote from the Head that definitely haunts us is that he said: “If he had been younger, he would have been expelled”. This worries us partly because this man, who is responsible for the education of over 1,200 students would be willing to derail their educational career during, for instance, their GCSE’s or A-Levels, hence our strong anonymity policy.

And what are some of your aspirations for the future?
We pride ourselves on the fact that we have many various students, who are interested in many different things writing for the blog. It is not like an English student club; Kinnan, for example, got a C in English GCSE, and now studies Maths. Very few of our writers would consider any further work in either satire, politics or writing in the future, which brings many varied perspectives on internal school politics.

After revealing some of the school’s errors and misconducts, do any of you feel bad about the work you do on the blog?
No. We support the teachers and the work they do, because we can see every day that they work hard to make sure students succeed. Despite censorship, we know there is a general readership in the staffroom.

We always make sure that no teachers, bar the Head, are mentioned by name, and we only publicly reveal misgivings because that is the only way we know that something will be done about them. It is not us that is at fault when we reveal any misconduct, it is the school, and therefore it is them that should bear the consequences for their misgivings.

 “We are making plans to motivate students in other schools, that have to suffer the same problems, to do as we have done, with our guidance, as we believe the problems we experience are not unique.”
 This is really interesting. I appreciate you are currently in the planning stages with this, but how do you envisage going about doing this with other schools? Will you focus just on Camden’s other schools for the moment or will it be any school?
We have had a few requests from students that attend schools as far as Wales, who wanted to set up something in likeness with the Trash. Now we feel we have the ability to guide other students in doing the same thing.
We have been in contact with students in schools in Camden and elsewhere, and if any readers of this interview want more information about setting up their own Trash, they can contact the Trash through email or social networks. Any blogs that do arise in other schools would become part of the Trash Network, and would be endorsed by us.

I also just want to unpick this statement a little: “Despite censorship, we know there is a general readership in the staffroom.”
What does this censorship consist of?
 As we have reported on in numerous articles, the blog is blocked on school servers, disallowing anyone to view our blog in school, which means in the parameters of the school grounds the school is disobeying Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the UN convention on the Rights of a Child, which the Management supposedly endorse. Under reasons for blocking the site, there are none, as it does not come under pornography of any type, it is not violent and, as of Trashgate, doesn’t use offensive language. However, if you wish to view how to make a pipe bomb or learn how to clean you bong, you are fully able to.

I know you’ve touched on this a bit but: why is writing for the blog worth the risk at all?
We are serious about getting the best out of our school in terms of education, and are motivated enough to act upon that. Also, we have invested our time in the school as students, so we all want the school to benefit from us, so the next generation of students can enjoy Hampstead as it should be.

In the Ham and High article, a spokesperson for the school is quoted saying: "As a rights respecting school, there are many channels through which students can express their views, including school council and suggestion boxes." This seems to be another amazing feat of incomprehension by the school's management, as, and as we have said in the past repeatedly, the blog was set up out of frustration that these channels are not taken seriously. It only takes to look at a Leaked Minutes to see our standpoint on the relevance, or rather irrelevance, of the School Council. The phrase 'falling on deaf ears' comes to mind, as it is one thing to set these systems in place, and it is another thing entirely to action them. 

The Management has taken their usual stance of stonewalling the Trash, despite us trying to improve the school, as they are so narrow minded that they will not accept that their school carries faults, and that we are here, willingly, trying to solve said problems. If the school Management had any sense they would be lapping up our input, as it is very uncommon to get so many students motivated enough about their school to try and induce change.

Also, returning to the whole "Rights Respecting School". We did say in the interview that the school have broken, and this is just over the Trash, Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the UN convention on the Rights of a Child, which the Management supposedly endorse. Does that sound like a Rights Respecting School to you?

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