Academy pupils in show of solidarity

Reporter: Lewis Jones
Date published: 25 November 2010

MORE than 100 chanting teenagers staged a walkout at the Oasis Academy yesterday in protest against the Government’s plans to cut education spending.

Angry Year-11s braved the bitter cold to display their placards reading “Degrees Not Fees” and “Education is a Right” as they circled the school fields in a display of solidarity.

The frustrated pupils united to rally against the decision to scrap the Educational Maintenance Grant (EMA), of up to £30 a week, paid out to 16 to 19-year-olds who choose to stay on in education.

“Give us our money back,” sang some of the pupils, who will be affected by the cut next year.

Saskia Janicki (16), who organised the walkout, said: “In this area, £30 a week makes a lot of difference and it could put people off staying on at college.

“I’m so proud of the turnout. This shows that young people are not apathetic and we have a voice.

“People feel strongly that cutting EMA is one of the worst things to scrap as support for bus fares and equipment will not be there.”

Classmate Chad Timmins said: “I want to go to OIdham Sixth Form next year and I would have got the full £30.

“I’ve got two brothers and a sister so it’s difficult for my mum to pay for all of our needs.

“I don’t think the Government is thinking about young people — especially those who are thinking of university.

“Facing a debt of up to £50,000 will segregate communities.”

Pupils held their banners high as they marched together at the former South Chadderton School to also oppose planned rises in tuition fees.

The crowd joined thousands of students up and down the country in the backlash against the education reforms, on the same day as a sea of protesters swept into London. Pupils said they felt betrayed by a switch in opinion from some Liberal Democrats who had campaigned against tuition fee rises prior to this year’s general election.

Tyler Dobbs, (16), said: “I persuaded my grandad to vote for the Lib-Dems, and I think they should go back to what they promised. Education is a right not a fee.”

Fellow pupil Alex Bollard, from Moston, said: “People say you should protest once in your life. Well, this is ours. It was quite amazing.”

Staff watched as the pupils shunned lessons to take a stance.

Head teacher John Alder said: “I’m proud that our students are aware of what is happening and are taking an interest in their futures. I agree with their concerns. I know how helpful EMA has been in encouraging people to stay on in education, and its cut will have a devastating impact on lots of families.”