"Free speech in Manchester but not in Salford, only if you can afford to pay for it…" Phil Harte St George's Headmaster
Waving St George's flags to represent St George's School, they marched through the biting wind, the hailstones and the rain…through the streets of Manchester, past the BBC, past Central Library and, symbolically, past the old Free Trade Hall, site of the Peterloo Massacre. And the crowds weren't just chanting against Salford Council's latest proposal to shut a successful school…they were also chanting `Free Speech for Salford!'
Led by St George's brave headmaster, Phil Harte, new European Boxing Champion, Jamie Moore, and top actress Catherine Tyldesley, there were loads of kids from all over Salford, joined by mums, dads, grannies, granddads, friends, supporters and even a dog in a St George's school tie. Unfortunately they were all priced out of demonstrating on the streets of Salford – last time, in Feb 2008 when 1000 people took to the streets of Little Hulton, Salford Council slapped a bill of almost £2000 on the organisers for the `privilege'. So the fight continued in Manchester, where they don't charge for democracy.
"It's a brilliant turnout on a very poor day in terms of the weather…it's only a pity that we couldn't do this demonstration in Salford, in our own base among our own community" said Phil Harte "Such as it is with Salford City Council but we will not be deterred. Free speech in Manchester but not in Salford, only if you can afford to pay for it."
St George's RC High School has been at the centre of a battle for almost two years – Salford Council wants to shut down the successful, oversubscribed school as part of its so-called Building Schools For The Future programme. But in consultation after consultation the community of Little Hulton has said that it wants the school to stay open.
The latest consultation, which went to the Council's Cabinet on January 27th this year, had over 1000 people objecting via petitions and letters for a whole variety of reasons (83 in all!) but the main concern was the loss of a small brilliant school at the heart of its community. At that meeting the Council's own Children's Services Scrutiny Committee `recommended that they were unhappy with the response indicated in the report to the outcome of the consultation exercise'. All this was ignored, yet again, as the Cabinet voted `to close St George's by September 2012'. Meanwhile the last issue of Salford Star (issue8) exposed Salford Council's plans to build 85 houses on the site of St George's before a decision on its future had even been made.
The school has now mounted a legal challenge and the schools adjudicator will have to rule on the school's future.
"We hope that will be some time in the summer term and we hope that we are going to be successful" said Phil Harte, adding "We will save the school, yes. I'm very confident."
If the schools adjudicator actually listens to kids whose education is at stake… If the schools adjudicator actually listens to Salford's community which has spoken up, signed petitions and travelled miles to march through Manchester…St George's will win one of the most bitter battles in the city's long history.
Will democracy prevail? Watch this space.
For more march photos click on Gallery (and scroll down) http://www.salfordstar.com/pictures.asp
Also check out Mary Burns on St George's
And issue 7 of the Salford Star http://www.salfordstar.com/articles.asp?issue=7
You can see all the objections to the St George's closure and the Council's response here…