Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Student protests and you: how to convince teenagers to jump fences

As you may have seen in the news, the government reportedly made a mathematical error in its calculation of the new tuition fees (nine thousand, Jesus). The financial climate surrounding new graduates, i.e. the lack of jobs or good pay, means that a rising figure of 45% of students are defaulting on their debts. David Willetts, a man who played a large role in the introduction of these tuition fees in 2010, has come forward and stated that as this figure approaches 48% the government, makes less and less money, approaching zero at the final 48%. To remind us of the initial backlash behind the new fees' introduction, here is a guest article, from a former Hampstead student, written about those eventful protests four years ago.

The student protests of 2010 were fun. I remember being escorted out of McDonalds by riot police, apparently hiding from being kettled behind a burger doesn’t work. Before that, however, there was this bit where 200 or so students fled Hampstead School just after the scheduled walkout time. About 3 days before protest day, me and my clean credit record got a bit upset over the tuition fee hike. At the time it was like having a baby boomer bend you over a barrel from birth and then kick you when you reached 18. So I spent a science lesson or two passing around this petition thing I drew up. It went along the lines of ‘blah blah agree to walk out at lunchtime blah blah signed: blah.‘ On its own it didn’t really do anything but it did raise awareness. Students got the concept of leaving school with everyone else at a given time and date and it snowballed from there.

To begin with no-one was really interested, but the idea was tempting. After I got a few people to agree, more and more joined since they knew people on the list. I got about 10 a lesson over 3 lessons. The teacher at the time was interested but didn’t really care since I wasn’t actively trying to break anything. It was at this point that word began to spread and people started making their own plans. It was quite easy from there.

At the same time I was messing about with my petition some other people I knew started raising support as well. Since it’s not up to me to name names I’m just going to call them the could-be-arsed's, you’ll see why if you read to the end. I never knew if we both came up with the idea on our own, or if they influenced me, or vice versa. The end result was that the GCSE people tended to hear about it from me and everyone else from them. At this point we were all geared up to walk out but had no real clue what was going to happen.

On the day itself the time I was thinking of, 13:30, came and went. There were a few people around but nothing spectacular. The could-be-arsed's and I showed up and it turned out we’d said different times. So we all went to our year rooms to try to get people to move. A lot of them were just sitting around not really sure what was happening. Students started to realise that the walk-out was actually happening and then things started moving a lot faster. Loads of students rushed the gates in a wave, it was like all those times someone was getting their teeth kicked in next to one of the cages and people ran to see it.

By the time we got up against the gates there were 200-300 people wanting out, but the gates were locked. We hadn’t thought about this bit much, especially since the gates were usually unlocked to allow the year above mine (it moved up every year) to go out and see the sights of Cricklewood. It turned out that the Head had caught wind of the protest and had locked all exits ahead of time.

He was standing in front of the gates trying to get people to move back and everything. For some reason I found myself at the front of this crowd and was pegged as a kind of spokesperson. I took over from the guy arguing with the Head but couldn’t say anything because people were going mental and I couldn’t hear.

I found out later that the Head had gone further than just locking the gates to prepare for us. Some of the year 7s had decided they wanted in (which was not our intention) and so to prevent them from leaving a staff member had locked them all in a room somewhere apparently without supervision. This was in the pre-Saville days when people didn’t mind as much about breaches of childrens’ Human Rights. With this in mind please note that the main reason we were kept locked in was because the school was tasked with duty of care over us. Looking back it was probably a fair point but it could have been managed better.

A couple of the students got so frustrated at this point that they went around the side and jumped over the iron railings in front of the school to escape. They got covered in anti-climb paint and wore it like a badge of honour for a few days. Most of us gave up at this point since the gates weren’t budging and began moving back. We got about halfway inside the school again before one person revealed they had gotten signed permission from their parents to be released from the school’s duty of care. I assume the head figured that the rebellion had been crushed, and that was why he opened the gate and allowed this person to meet their quite irate parents on the other side. Of course opening the gates led to another rush and the force of a load of student bodies kept them open. 200 or so students managed to get out and were met on the other side with a journalist from the Camden New Journal eagerly taking pictures (one of my better plans). It was a great moment, we’d managed to overcome adversity and escape into the world outside. It was at this point that 190 or so students went home to play the new Call of Duty that had come out that month, or something
else that involved not going to central London. Eventually it was just me, the could-be-arsed's, and a few others who actually went to the protest.

The rest was a lot of fun except it didn’t really achieve much. A few disabled people got beaten up by police, someone swung on the Cenotaph, and Camilla got poked with a stick. (not joking)

To sum up: if you really want to motivate students to action, promise the afternoon off and release a best-selling game a week beforehand.

- Marcus Absent

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