Pimlico Academy: Head backs down over 'racist' uniform rules and union jack

1 April 2021, 08:25 | Updated: 1 April 2021, 10:56

Scores of students protested at Pimlico Academy
Scores of students protested at Pimlico Academy. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

The headteacher of an academy which saw pupils protests over a "racist" uniform policy and the flying of the union jack has backed down and agreed concessions after a mass walkout.

Pupils at Pimlico Academy in Westminster chanted "we want change" against rules they said discriminated against Muslim and black students and changes to the curriculum.

Head Daniel Smith introduced a new uniform policy last year which said hairstyles should not "block the view of others", for example Afro-style haircuts, and that hijabs "should not be too colourful".

The flying of the union jack at the school also proved controversial with pupils.

The flying of the union jack was an area of contention for pupils
The flying of the union jack was an area of contention for pupils. Picture: PA

In a statement, the head said: "The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom, we all enjoy, one that was hard fought-for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have.

"Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice. I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.

"The issue of the flying of the union flag was discussed at length. We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions.

“We have listened to the concerns of students, parents and the wider community about it.

"After Easter, we will conduct a review of this and, as part of that, consult with all the academy's stakeholders to elicit their feedback. In the meantime, and until that review is concluded, the union flag will not be flown at the academy."

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He added that the uniform policy and parts of the curriculum had been revised.

Police had to attend the school grounds during the protests as social media footage showed students chanting and sitting outdoors as part of the demonstration.

Numerous posts supporting the action were posted on Twitter.

National Education Union members at Pimlico Academy passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Smith on Tuesday night.

A ballot had been scheduled to be held after Easter, which could lead to strikes.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, a parent of a school pupil, who gave her name as Amber, said: "It's an amazing vibrant school, well it has been, but over the last six months there are lots of things that have made my child especially not very comfortable."

She said she believed that parts of the uniform code were not motivated by race but were clumsy.

"I feel as though I’ve gone to the American 50s sort of school uniforms policy," she added.

"When I challenged it, it took me six emails and four attempts on the telephone to speak to the principal, I did actually get a meeting and talked about it and he sort of said, no we didn’t mean that.

"OK, you don’t mean big hair is not specifically targeted at people of colour but it’s the way you’ve done it - this is 2021 now, listen to your pupils."

She added that opposition to the flag was driven by frustration at the headteacher rather than opposition to the UK.

Ahead of the protests, school walls were daubed with graffiti, which reportedly read “Ain’t no black in the Union Jack …” and “White schools for brown kids are u mad."

Another slogan said: “Pimlico Academy … run by racists … for profit!!!”

Read more: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report: The key points

A statement from Future Academies - which runs the school - said yesterday, ahead of Mr Smith’s statement: "It is with regret that these matters have come to a head in such a public way.

"We want to take this opportunity to reassure parents that this is an isolated event, and we are working to resolve the issues raised.

“We apologise to all children, families and staff for the disruption today."

The group has denied it does not take race issues seriously.