Students who alleged 'extreme discipline and racism' at two London schools to take concerns to MPs

260521 Hackney Detainees email (c) ITV GFX
An email referring to pupils at Hackney New School as “detainees”

A group of MPs will meet publicly with students from two London secondary schools following allegations of extreme discipline and racism from staff. 

It comes following an investigation by ITV News into methods at Hackney New School, which revealed students were referred to as “detainees” and thousands of detentions issued since the start of the school year.

The headteacher at Pimlico Academy, in Westminster, also resigned last week following a race discrimination row over its uniform policy. Students had held protests at the school and sprayed buildings with graffiti accusing it of racism.

Pupils seen during a protest at Pimlico Academy

In response to the incidents, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education, has organised an event in solidarity with students. Pupils from both schools have been invited to share their experiences. 

Hackney North MP Dianne Abbott, who is chair of the group, will host the event called A Discussion on School Discipline and Exclusions: Giving Pupils a Voice. It takes place in early June. 

Hackney New School had admitted some of its practices were “completely unacceptable”, but defended most of its teaching methods, saying it inherited a “broken school” and strict disciplinary measures were needed.

Barry Smith, who was brought into Hackney New School to improve discipline

In April, Pimlico Academy apologised following the protests and revised its uniform policy.   

L'myah Sherae, Founder of the APPG for Race Equality in Education, said: "We are holding the event in support of all children, and students, who have shown incredible bravery by using their voice to speak out about racism and methods of discipline in schools.  

“No child should have to speak out about these issues. Schools are meant to safeguard children, and be environments that promote happiness and wellbeing.” 

The group of nine MPs will use the event to put pressure on the Department of Education (DfE) to tackle race inequality in schools, claiming students are being discriminated against for “embracing their identities”. 

It also wants to eliminate race disproportionality in school exclusions. 

Protests first started at Pimlico Academy in March, when its headteacher Daniel Smith became embroiled in the row over uniform rules – which some claimed discriminate against Muslim and black students. 

Protest sign at the entrance to Pimlico Academy

The policy ushered in by Mr Smith said that hairstyles that “block the view of others” would not be allowed, and hijabs “should not be too colourful”, sparked the recent protests. 

The school’s redrafted uniform policy says hair must be maintained “in a conventional style”, but there is no mention of styles that “block the view of others”. 

Mr Smith announced his plans to step down as headteacher last week. 

Following the death of George Floyd last year, Hackney New School pupil Temilola wrote a letter to all staff complaining of a culture of “conscious and subconscious racism”.

Hackney New School pupil Temilola

In an interview with ITV News at the time, Simon Elliott, Chief Executive of the Community Schools Trust, which manages the school said the school supports inclusivity. 

In emails sent shortly afterwards to staff and seen by ITV News, the school said it was “committed to teaching about equality”. 

A Discussion on School Discipline and Exclusions: Giving Pupils a Voice takes place on June 8, at 6pm. 

In a statement, Hackney New School Headteacher, Charlotte Whelan said: "We welcome the news that this forum will be taking place. Making a school an inclusive, supportive place to study and work is an ongoing process, It never stops. 

"We also welcome any opportunity to give young people a voice. I meet every two weeks with student representatives who provide feedback which influences school life.

"We are also one of the most diverse school trusts in the country, reflected in our student cohort, teachers and leadership team."

A Department for Education spokesperson added: “Racism, discrimination and violent behaviour have no place in our schools, nor in society. The Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against pupils on the basis of their race and we expect schools to take a stand against bullying, discrimination and harassment of all kinds.

 “We are clear that permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort, and permanent exclusion from school should not mean exclusion from education. We will always back headteachers to use suspension and permanent exclusion when required as part of creating calm and disciplined classrooms.”

Pimlico Academy has also been approached for comment.