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Protesting pupils call on headteacher to stop exclusions and teacher exodus at St Aloysius’ RC College

Protest saw a peaceful four-hour stand-off between 150 students and school's management team

01 April, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Students lining up in front of the school refusing to enter this morning (Monday)

DOZENS of students joined a protest outside the gates of St Aloysius’ RC College this morning to demand a change in management and an end to exclusions.

Around 150 students from Year Nine to Sixth form lined up outside the school gates in Hornsey Lane, Highgate, from 8.30am today (Monday) and refused to enter.

They eventually entered the school after a tense four-hour stand-off but pledged to protest again tomorrow if their demands aren’t listened to.

But students say their parents have been called and warned that their children will face exclusions if they protest again.

The pupils say they are against the high turnover of teachers at the school – almost 30 have left in the past year – as well as the harsh exclusion policy which sees students unable to access lessons for days at a time.

One pupil told the Tribune: “The school has lost its soul in the past year. It’s now just a shell.”

Protesting students look on into the school from the gates

The school was rated “outstanding” in 2012 by Ofsted under the former headteacher Tom Mannion. He was forced to take early retirement in January last year after being arrested as part of a fraud investigation – but was cleared by police. The school has been rated by Ofsted inspectors as “requires improvement” – the second worst rating – following its latest inspection in November.

A new management team was brought in at the Roman Catholic school by the Diocese of Westminster after Mr Mannion’s departure with Jane Heffernan placed in the top role as executive headteacher.

One Year 11 student said: “The school was much better under Mr Mannion. There have been so many permanent exclusions in the past year. There have been budget cuts to our art department and PE too. So many teachers have left,” said one Year 11 student.

One student, who is currently temporarily excluded, said: “I’m not an intimidating or defiant student but the management have built a case against me. I am forced to sit in a room and I’m not allowed to attend lessons. I’m at risk of not passing my exams. I’m having to study by myself and we’re still learning new content. They said they’ll bring down work for me but I haven’t been brought down any work.”

Another student, who helped lead the protest, spoke of how harmful exclusions can be.

He said: “Exclusion is one of the social factors of knife crime. If someone is growing up and is affected by expulsion it creates certain thoughts, such as let me hit the trap [a place where drugs are sold]. It makes me feel so sad to hear about another person being stabbed. Expelling people doesn’t help.”

Mr Mannion understood us, we liked him, and we miss the teachers who have now left the school, said one pupil.

Some students who were inside the school were blocked from attending the protest mainly organised through social media apps including Snapchat.

Students shouted to each other to “stay strong” throughout the morning and a group of five students representing the different years formed a committee with a list of demands to put to the management team at the school.

Student committee meeting the executive headteacher

The list said: “We have had enough of the treatment of staff and students under the new management. It is humiliating to see staff being talked down at in front of students – it is demoralising. We have lost too many good teachers due to mistreatment.”

It added: “You have actually made us reach the point where we feel right to protest for the sake of our school and education. We have our exams soon and we should be focusing on that but here we are and we are that desperate for you to change your ways. We actually want our teachers when our exams come about so stop driving them away.”

Students list of demands presented to the management

Headteacher Ms Heffernan refuted the claims from her pupils that her school had a high exclusion rate and told the Tribune outside the school gates this morning: “Our exclusion rates are very low here.” She also refused to answer when asked why she thought so many teachers had left the school in the past year.

A former teacher at the school, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the Tribune to back the students. He said: “I salute the students and hope they can succeed in their exams despite this person [Ms Heffernan]. The diocese and the school desperately need to address this issue by appointing a headteacher who understands the school and everything it stands for.”

He added that the “teacher exodus” brought on by the “incompetence” of the management had “a seriously detrimental effect on the progress and performance of all students but especially the ones of years 11.”

A current teacher, who did not want to give their name for fear of repercussions, said: “A lot of teachers wanted to join the protest but we would be shot to pieces and wouldn’t have a job tomorrow if we joined. The pupils feel that if they step out of place they will be permanently excluded. It feels like the school is gearing towards becoming an academy. It feels like it’s being run as a business. Staff are getting their contracts change and losing out on income.”

But Mr McDaid, a teacher at Cardinal Pole school in Hackney where Ms Heffernan is also executive head, said: “I’m going to back Jane. She is a strong headteacher and is very supportive of her staff. She trusts her staff to get on with their job and she has always maintained high standards in behaviour. She is the best headteacher i’ve worked with and i’ve worked with many.”

As previously reported in the Tribune, sixth formers described the school in Highgate was ‘in turmoil’ because of the teacher exodus.

Ms Heffernan and John Paul Morrison, the Diocese of Westminster’s director of education, has been approached for comment.

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