Today in London’s educational history, 1972: a Schools Action Union strike and demonstration

The Schools Action Union (SAU) was a children-led movement that existed between 1969 and 1974, and made significant gains in shifting the corporal punishment debate in Britain.

The SAU was formed on 4 Jan 1969 at a meeting attended by members of the Free Schools Campaign, Secondary School Students Union and various regional groups.

The Schools Action Union evolved from a broad and varied range of protests around education. One of these, in March 1968, saw hundreds of pupils from the Myles Platting Secondary Modern school in Manchester stage a school strike in response to the excessive use of the tawse, a pronged leather strap. Soon after, students from the strike formed the Manchester Union of Secondary Students. Other groups that emerged, partly inspired by these events, included the Swansea Union of Progressive Students, the Bristol Sixth Form Alliance, and the Cardiff Union of Secondary Schools.

Among the original founding members of the SAU, Tricia Jaffe had been in Paris during the period of civil unrest in May 1968 and established links with members of Comites d’Action Lyceens. This inspired her to become active in the Free Schools Campaign (FSC) in October 1968, and she organised an FSC conference in January 1969. The conference achieved a lot of TV and press publicity, as well as attracting threats of an attack by the far-right National Front. However, the conference opened up divisions between those who wanted an apolitical educational movement (which the FSC continued as), or an overtly radical political grouping – thus the Schools Action Union emerged.

The SAU’s founding demands were:

  1. Control of the schools by students and staff
  2. Freedom of speech and assembly
  3. The outlawing of corporal punishment
  4. The abolition of school uniforms
  5. Co-educational comprehensive schools
  6. More pay for teachers

The SAU wanted radical change, and (unlike the FSC), chose to make links with other political movements.

At this point the SAU apparently described itself as a “Marxist-Leninist-Liberal broad front”, subsequently it has generally been described as ‘extreme Maoist in nature’.

On 2 March 1979, the SAU held a demonstration attended by 700 people at the Department for Education and County Hall, London, headquarters of the Inner London Educational Authority (ILEA – then in charge of education in the capital, but since abolished).

An article by a SAU Executive Committee member set out their early thinking:
“Most school students, and some teachers too, can imagine why people at British schools are organising, through the SAU and other groups, to flight for their interests. The educational mill is frequently a very unpleasant experience. In schools young people are subjected to petty viciousness, intolerance and general academic bullying. Some schools are more liberal than others but everywhere power in the school is concentrated in the hands of one man or woman. At best students and staff have some sort of collective ’advisory’ capacity. In these circumstances change comes very slowly, especially as the undemocratic school boards often contain very backward elements in the community.

So in face of this hierarchy of academic bullshit, school students and teachers have begun to create groups dedicated to struggle within and outside schools for various programmes. About a year ago in North London schools branches of the Revolutionary Socialist Student Federation were set up. About the same time in South London the Free Schools Campaign began activity and from members of these groups, other smaller groups and individuals in London and School Unions in Manchester, Scotland, South Wales, Leicester and the rest of the country a national conference took place in January. Then a London conference was held and the Schools’ Action Union has crystallised out with about twenty affiliated branches throughout Britain.

In London our struggle is led by an elected Executive Committee and the London Union has set up area branches and branches in individual schools.

[Our] demands [as set out above] should not be taken as final, all the work of the Union is open to debate and criticism. It should be pointed out that the demand for ’coeducational comprehensive schools’ is no blank cheque for many of the schools that masquerade under that name are class and sex discriminatory, elitist and quite reactionary and anti-human institutions. However gathering different sexes and social strata under one roof is a step forward to a decent educational system which serves the people.

How does the Union intend to fight for its demands, demands that we consider reflect the ideas of hundreds of thousands of young people? At the moment we are developing our organisation. Our aim is to have groups throughout the schools which can carry out a propaganda work and lead the bulk of students at their schools to fight unitedly by any means possible – meetings, strikes and sit-ins for instance, all of which have occurred in schools up and down the country.”   

The SAU made attempts to forge unity with teachers: “Far from being against our teachers, we want and need the support of most of them against their authoritarian and disciplinarian colleagues and superiors.” When teachers went out on strike in November 20, 1969, London SAU printed and distributed its own leaflets supporting the dispute and a SAU contingent joined the teachers’ demonstration.

The creation of a universal comprehensive education was one of the SAU’s central aims. An early SAU action involved a provocative invasion of Dulwich College (a posh selective school in South London) in June 1969, to test how its ‘open’ its ‘Open Day’ really was.

The Union also called a strike for the last day of the Christmas term in 1969. Five school students at Kingsdale School (in Alleyn Park, Dulwich) were expelled after this 1969 SAU Christmas strike.

Among SAU’s regular early activities, the organisation put on Guerrilla Theatre performances, ran “teach-in socials with films,” eg, on July 4, 1969, the attendees watched films on the May revolution, the Chicago riots, and the Hornsey Arts College occupation. The Union published two magazines, Vanguard and Rebel, each sold for a three pence fortnightly subscription fee. Other regional journals were also published: Pupil Power (Liverpool), Slug (Manchester), Red Herring (Hemel Hempstead), as well as Intercourse (focussed on Secondary Schools).

SAU members regularly distributed the controversial Little Red Schoolbook, which was censored under the Obscene Publications Act, and a member of the SAU wrote in the now-infamous “SchoolKids” edition of Oz magazine, which was subject to an obscenity trial in 1971.

The SAU’s contacts with other left groups increased after they collected enough funds to rent an office at 160 North Gower Street, near Euston Station. This was conveniently located next door to “radical information agency” Agitprop. Contact with Agitprop helped the SAU to learn and improve printing and publishing techniques, as well as contributing to developments in political thinking… The SAU also developed close links with the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which had been established in Britain in the wake of the Stonewall Rebellion in America; the GLF partly funded the SAU’s publishing costs for a while.

By the summer of 1969, the SAU had twenty-seven branches across the country. It had also held three national conferences — two in Birmingham and one in London — and conducted numerous strikes across the country. Numbers are probably not a full measure of the Union’s influence, but as an example, the SAU claimed 500 members in late 1970, mostly in London.

The SAU backed a 1970 National Council for Civil Liberties campaign opposing compulsory religious education and corporal punishment in schools.

Later that year, a planned SAU ‘Living School’ at the London School of Economics (LSE) had to be relocated after a Conservative Party peer raised the prospect in the House of Lords, asking why the LSE was promoting ‘subversive activities’. According to Socialist and feminist Sheila Rowbotham, who was involved in setting up the event, it was an attempt to link up the SAU with working class apprentices who had been radicalised by events since 1968, and was intended as an ‘anti-authoritarian project’ with no set timetable, including poetry, songs, acting, films and fun… Banned by LSE Director Walter Adams, the meeting was re-located to Conway Hall, where attendees were shown films, attended lectures and received instruction on the manufacture of silk screen posters. There was fierce argument about whether those attending should all march off to storm the LSE, but in the end only a small minority left with this aim (unclear what happened after that?!) A Communist Party trade union official giving a lecture on Marxism was booed by SAU members, described by Sheila Rowbotham as “either anarchical or incipient Maoists, or a bit of both”… this room apparently blocked up a whole room in the tower at Conway Hall for hours…

In its earliest phase, the SAU membership had been mostly based among older, more middle-class pupils, including many from grammar schools (despite its original emergence from protests based in secondary modern and comprehensive schools). Its base apparently evolved, as the Conservatives under Edward Heath won the June 1970 general election, and began to implement policies aimed at restricting strikes, curbing the power of organised workers, and enforcing new anti-trade union legislation. As unemployment rose and resistance to the tory agenda grew, an influx of working-class members began to shift the SAU towards a more class-based politics. The SAU profile also rose, and in a climate of mass protest, their actions were often featured in the media cheek by jowl with reports on miners and dockers’ strikes. This was usually accompanied by suggestions that they were puppets controlled behind the scenes by leftwing adults, secretly funded by Soviet money, etc…

SAU activity seems to have been more sustained in London than elsewhere. (But this could probably be researched). In 1972, prominent activists in the organisation included Stephen Finch (a pupil at Rutherford Comprehensive School, Marylebone) and Simon Steyne (a 16 year old sixth-former at Forest Hill Comprehensive School in south-east London), with Liza Dresner acting as national spokesperson. Leftwing actor and playwright  Colin Welland (a former secondary school teacher) met Liza Dresner on the set of David Frost’s chat show and subsequently made a substantial donation to the SAU, which helped pay the rent on its North Gower Street offices.
Another ex-member of the national committee, Steve Wilson, commented  “A girl called Loulla Ephimou and a number of other members of North London’s Greek community, people like me, idealistic teachers and so on were members”…

The SAU’s activities reached a high point in the school strikes in May 1972.

On the 4th May 1972 about 200 boys aged between 11 and 16, put down their pencils and rulers at Quinton Kynaston School on the Finchley Road, near St John’s Wood, in north London. It was the start of a protest about unpleasant school dinners, caning, and the conformity of school uniforms. The boys swarmed over the school wall and not knowing really what to do next decided to all go home.

“I remember hiding on a roof in the back streets in St Johns Wood.
We stormed out from Quinton Kynaston School, one of the kid’s Christian Rabbi pushed the ice cream van over,
We heard a police car coming so we climbed up onto a roof and sat there for a while. when we thought it was all clear we climbed down. A copper crabbed me, my two school mates took off, I was marched back to school.” (Geoffrey Phillips)

A few days later 18 year old Steve ‘Ginger’ Finch, a pupil from Rutherford Comprehensive School in Marylebone, organised a small group of pupils from his school and nearby Sarah Siddons Girls’ School. The rally of about 60 school children met initially at Paddington Green but then started out on an eight mile march to enlist support from other schools, demanding the abolition of caning, slippering and school uniforms, and the introduction of passes to leave school at lunchtime.

Stephen Finch on SAU demo

This strike initially did seem to win some concessions from Rutherford’s headmaster, who announced a day or two later that that the demands were being seriously considered.

That these actions initially looked like they might achieve some immediate success inspired SAU members and other pupils to launch a series of small protests in schools across London and SE England, and to call a strike and demo for the following week, on 10 May.

Despite an instruction by the Inner London Education Authority to schools to treat any strikers as truants, on Wednesday May 10 1972, around 1500 schoolkids assembled at Speakers’ Corner  and marched to London’s County Hall, handing in a letter demanding an end to corporal punishment and school uniforms, the right to publish school magazines without censorship and to organise student meeting during lunch breaks and after school on school premises, the right to join student unions and engage in political activity, including strikes (among other demands). Simon Steyne also spoke of his support for the abolition of head teachers, who he called dictators.

Attempts were definitely made in some schools to prevent kids joining: “Earlier that day we heard that the girls at Sarah Siddons had been locked into their classrooms so that they could not join the demonstration. I don’t remember how we got into the building but I do remember us setting off the fire alarm so the doors were unlocked.” (Tal)

Allegedly this photo show a Paddington schoolgirl leaving to join the demo on May 10th

Stephen Finch was unable to take part in the 10th May actions, as he was still being held by police, having being arrested the week before. Several thousand pupils were involved in the wider school strike on the 10th. Home Secretary Reginald Maudling called the strike “the ultimate in absurd demonstration”.

ILEA’s dismissive reaction only spurred further SAU action. A delegate meeting of 60 SAU activists, held on May 14th, called for a national General Strike in schools, and announced another demo for May 17th. This time, ILEA played it more cautiously, suggesting schools take a “broadly liberal attitude” to pupils going absent for the day, and advised making “a clear distinction between taking normal and proper steps to deal with breaches of discipline, including truancy, and giving due consideration to the legitimate views of pupils”. Which is interesting tactics. ILEA may have decided a laissez-faire approach would allow the movement to fire up then fizzle out, or may have thought they could split kids taking political action from general non-political ‘troublemakers’. Not sure.

In any case, on May 17, 1972, ten thousand school children went on strike. Somewhere upwards of a thousand, some as young as 11, assembled at Trafalgar Square and once again marched on County Hall. Central London came to a standstill as police struggled to contain crowds marching through the streets with banners reading “No To The Cane.”

Unwilling to let the children occupy Trafalgar Square as the SAU had intended, the police blocked off the Square and fighting resulted; the cops dispersed the children across London in large groups, arresting many of the organisers and demonstrators in the process. 24 pupils were arrested, one 14-year-old girl was injured.

Striking schoolkids rush into Trafalgar Square, 17 May 1972

The anarchist newspaper Freedom reported on this demo, though the writer’s position on what they saw as the limited reformist politics of the SAU and other groups demands was critical, (they also assert that the demo overflowed what they saw as the organisers’ restrictions):

“WEDNESDAY, May 17. the second schoolkids’ demonstration was held in London. Whereas the first demonstration was allowed to march to County Hall to present petitions and state grievances, police tactics, such as sealing off both Trafalgar Square and County Hall, prevented any rally. As it was at about 10.45 driving in with vans and cars. I saw two people wearing blue blazers and caps (but probably not schoolkids) who were arrested for taking the numbers of policemen who acted in a very arrogant dominating way, and dearly terrified some younger children. After regrouping at St. Martin’s Church, the march moved off to rally in Hyde Park. The police then found that by fragmenting the groups an incoherent rabble wandering across roads, down back streets and through the parks had been created. About 22 other arrests followed with children and adults held. Keith Nathan of N.E. London ORA [Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists] is one of those busted and appeared in court on Thursday. Of course the newspapers and television were bloody bigots over the whole affair. Both TV news said less than 1,000 turned up and newspapers using police counts suddenly cut the march figure from 4.000 to 700 at the whim of Scotland Yard Press Office. The old ‘gymslip rebels’ ‘truant revolutionary’ bit was laid on as thick as was palatable to that particular audience but very few carried anything of the disciplinary and educational inadequacies which caused these demonstrations. The Guardian and Telegraph however did tell us of intimidation of kids by teachers and headmasters before the march, and of one scheme where boys will have to clock-in at school and carry a stamped card home for their parents. Kids able to run through central London and confront a mass of police will surely not be dissuaded by such ham-fisted attempts by headmasters. It is illegal to suggest what children should do to Kuper, a headmaster who said he would cane or expel any ‘truants’. A rather distasteful aspect of the march was the blatant use of it for propaganda from political groups. The IS group ‘Rebel’ had a leaflet out which wanted a ‘genuinely comprehensive schools system’. YCL called on kids to join NUSS (National Union of School Students) which in turn wants ‘democratic comprehensive’ schools. SAU ran out a simplistic leaflet which went no further than to challenge present-day rules and call for ‘rules made and kept by the whole school’, S. London ORA joined in with an organisation called SMACK (Schools Mass Action Collective for Kids). Predictably this leaflet was the most coherent, far-reaching and interesting issue. However I do not like the idea of selling ready-made union-type organisations to kids. I think ORA would be well advised to issue instead longer, detailed and more explanatory leaflets, which I know kids really would appreciate more than the farcical demonstration groups. As it was, most children refused to follow the SAU organisers’ plans. A very frustrated group of SAU stewards was seen by me outside Green Park Tube at 12.15 pm. as the kids ran rampant up to Hyde Park. If SAU want these demonstrations to degenerate into a kind of trades union pilgrimage from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, they are doing the right things. More solidarity and less political salesmen might well produce more effective action.”

Another account of the demo relates the event started with confusion with half of the pupils marching to Hyde Park and half marching along the South Bank to County Hal chanting “attack the pigs,” and “we want a riot.”

I went to St Pauls Way School in Bow, east London. I don’t know how we found out about this strike but one of the hardnuts in the 3rd year rallied us at morning break. We marched towards the front gate and the head (AJ Davenport) met us there – he told us to ‘f*ck off then!’ – so we did. we made our way to Stepney Green School and shouted for them to join us and a fair amount did! We made our way to Hyde Park by jumping the tube but all got split up. I was fed up walking around by then and made my way home.”
(Gary Wood ) – but not sure if this refers to the May 10th or 17th demo…

The publicity resulting from the May 17th demo helped spread a small wave of school protests around the country; it also aroused lots of general support for the protestors’ aims, especially in reaction to hysterical press nonsense condemning the demonstration and strikes.

But SAU activists came under pressure from school authorities. The children who skipped school and joined the SAU’s marches were targeted by the schools and exposed in the hostile press. The SAU regularly held campaigns that called for the reinstatement of excluded students, suspended or expelled for “truancy.” Activists were often subjected to the cane, or to suspension of expulsion. The response had its impact on membership, as pressure at school and often led pupils to back off from involvement. In schools in Westminster and Forest Hill, however, mass petitions were apparently able to forestall victimisations of activists (possibly this refers to the schools Steyne and Finch attended respectively? see above).

The accusation that the SAU was controlled by adult subversives with a sinister agenda led to surveillance and infiltration, not just by the press (a tabloid reporter attended meetings undercover, and another paper allegedly sponsored a burglary of the North Gower Street offices), but also by the state. The SAU suspected some organised surveillance at the time, but like many activists and campaigners subjected to infiltration, were unable to prove anything.

De-classified files released in 2007 apparently show that Edward Heath’s government employed the security services to infiltrate, monitor, and to uncover adult supporters of the SAU. Heath was presented with a dossier of information about the SAU shortly after the demonstration on May 17, having requested detailed information about the event the day before. His concern was that “when a similar development occurred in France in 1968, it caused a good many problems and proved very difficult to get under control.”

Heath asked for “special attention at particular schools, to try to isolate the ringleaders of the militancy.” The tories were especially worried that working-class children were becoming radicalised. Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, was  “reassured by a report from a serviceman who had infiltrated an SAU meeting and suggested that “the leaders spoke with Cockney accents and spoke illogically. It seemed there were a number of middle-class kids who were dressing badly to look working class.” Arf.

The files reveal that surveillance made much of the links SAU activists had to leftwing groups, Agitprop, the GLF etc.

Some ex-SAU activists had differing views on the organisation, its effectiveness, the impact of the strike and demos, and what caused people to join:

“I went over the wall at Quintin in 1972 and through some rabble rousing girls I knew from St Marylebone girls school quickly got involved with the organisers in Golders Green. We were given Chairman Mao lapel badges and a little red book to quote from and sent out to organise.

At boy’s schools at that time we weren’t too concerned about caning, school dinners, and uniforms but we felt repressed and let down by the promises not kept.

Powerful militant young women turning up at your school was all the encouragement needed for 12-14 year old boys to bunk off and get involved!

To be honest, I think it started off as wanting to have a bit of a laugh at someone else’s expense for a change, we liked the idea of having a bit of self-determination which grew into something more profound. As a kid growing up in London in the 60′s you played in the streets – but by the early 70′s this was no longer the case. The innocent pastime had come to an end and on the marches for once we outnumbered the coppers! A last hurrah to kids owning the streets.

It was all very innocent, nobody screwed, took drugs, got violent, or burnt anything down.” (Bill)

The local activity of SAU groups or cells within schools was probably more significant for most of those involved than the demos mentioned above. A glance at one page of Vanguard gives an insight into some of the day to day activity taking place in schools, and of evangelical expeditions to spread the word between schools (including Harrow!):

School Reports

St Clement Danes
The trouble at St Clement Danes has arisen for two reasons. 1) because the constitutional approach was slow and unsuccessful. 2) because Badcock’s regime became too much to near passively.
Two suspensions over length of hair, and a compete rejection of our six proposals in the Autumn term started the situation ticking, while four expulsions on doubtful grounds kept it going during Spring. But the summer saw the A-levels, and the most stupid piece of authoritarianism for a long time. Badcock walked into the Art exam and told a boy to get his hair cut before the next day or have his paper destroyed. The boy was leaving the following week anyway, so he didn’t return to school, and his exam paper survived. This incident prompted two letters from ‘pupils of St Clement Danes’ to Dr, Badcock calling on him to publicly apologise or resign, one to the governors suggesting that they take some disciplinary action, and one from SAU to Badcock deploring his action. Meanwhile a school council had been called for, and was supported by most of the students, but was interrupted by later events.
An SAU member was summoned to the headmaster, and told that he was ‘not welcome’ at the school, as he wrote on a ‘confidential’ application for careers advice that he believed that the questions asked were rubbish, and could have no relevance to his future job. He was then sent home: SAU called a meeting attended by 250, which decided on a walk-out but it was blocked by teachers, prefects and barred gates.
Another scapegoat was made ‘not welcome’ at the school for inciting a ‘disturbance/riot’, and informing the press. other charges were dropped. The other boy was allowed back providing he wrote a letter resigning from SAU disclosing the names of other sympathisers, and denouncing the aims of SAU.
Next day, the headmaster gave the sixth form a lecture on ‘sixth-form anarchists’., a list of whom had been drawn up, and threatened to ‘pounce on them’. The next day, the scapegoat’s parents withdrew him from the school to avoid further victimisation. 
That Friday the SAU arrived gave out 500 leaflets, and tried to give Badcock a letter, which he refused. We were then moved by the fuzz, brought by Badcock.
Before we finish, a warning, Syph (we know you read Vanguard) St Clement Danes SAU will reawaken in September to fight on.

Tulse Hill
Tulse Hill Boys’ School has 1800 students: perhaps it is because of these very large numbers that the authorities there feel they have to protect themselves and their system with extreme violence, but whatever their reasons, it is certainly used.
For this reason several of the boys contacted SAU and worked out a plan of action, which started off at the end of last term with the distribution of 1000 leaflets attacking the ‘education’ system which relies on terror to preserve itself. There was immediate response, and the hard core of 12 members of SAU at the school were contacted by many of their fellow students. SAU is underground at present, but with the large-scale support won so far, the authorities had better watch out this term…
F.I. (Tulse Hill Boys’ SAU)

‘Harrow’, someone said, ‘Harrow the public school, what about that.’ ‘Yeah, sure.’
So on Saturday about a dozen of us marched  – up the Hill past dizzy shoppers and waited and waited. 
A trickle of boys was drawn into discussion and swelled into a large crowd. ‘Can you all come back on Thursday?’ pleaded a boatered guy with Che in one pocket and fags in the other, ‘cos we have all this crazy parade in full regalia.’ Afterwards we were invited inside for a chat.
On Thursday 26 of us dutifully arrived with a special Harrovian leaflet and an escort of bright-eyed cameramen, to talk and talk, and found plenty of agreement, even on the injustice of privilege and the need for a social revolution.
A local reporter covered the event and compiled a list of pupil grievances, we made several contacts and demystified the ‘other half’. 

HAS ANYTHING HAPPENED AT YOUR SCHOOL? Anything that should be done and got away with anything you’ve done to try to get the rights and freedoms due to you, any struggles still going on. WRITE TO US – WE’LL ALMOST CERTAINLY PUBLISH IT.”
(from Vanguard, SAU mag, not sure what date).

Some SAU ‘branches’ may have taken more direct action… An interesting comment (found on a thread published elsewhere about the SAU demonstrations):

“the public side of the SAU was always on a loser. The clandestine side, though smaller in scale, was *much* more effective.

The SAU cell at St. Dunstan’s College (SDC) in Catford ran a 2-year covert operation of espionage and sabotage against the school establishment in general and R. R. Pedley, the HM, in particular. Actions by cell members – notably the 1970 Speech Day operation – destroyed Pedley’s standing within his own profession, which added much to the stress that brought his death in 1973 – two years after the cell members left.

There is also some circumstantial evidence consistent with the view that Philip Cooper, Head of Music at SDC, (d. 29/10/71) was poisoned by an unknown pupil who had access to the technical assets that the SDC SAU cell had collected (among them keys to every door and cupboard in the school).

If the SDC SAU cell had focussed on public demos, we would soon have been crushed. Acting covertly was much more successful – so much so that our security was never broken throughout our operations.

Pedley was one of the most vicious of all public school heads. Helping him to an early death by destroying his professional reputation was one of the SAUs greatest but least-known achievements. As for Cooper, since he was a predatory sado-masochistic paedophile, if it was an SDC SAU cell member who took him out, that trumps anything else that the SAU ever did.

As it was the security of the cell was never broken”
(Olwen Morgan)

Others flagged up that the much-touted links to adult leftist groups did have some substance:

“I had been in the SUA for a while by May 1972. Is there anyone who remembers the place we used to meet in Acre Lane, Brixton? The SAU was a kind of youth wing of an organisation whose name I have forgotten which was recruiting young ‘cadres’. Their newspaper’s banner featured the profiles of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. They were also very enthusiastic about Enver Hoxha and his Albanian regime. My father, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who had left the Communist Party after the invasion of Hungary could barely stand to see me selling the paper with a picture of ‘that man’ (Stalin) on its cover.

I agree with much of the analysis of the SAU and the wider scholchidren’s revolt in this article – we were part of a genuine grassroots movement and had our own ideas. But there were adults in the background who had their own agenda.” (Tal)

[Typist’s note: I wonder if ‘the place we used to meet in Acre Lane’ is the Mao Memorial Centre, formerly based at 140 Acre Lane, Brixton, an offshoot of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) and dominated by Ara Balakrishnan, ‘Comrade Bala’, arrested in 2013 on suspicion of assault, false imprisonment and immigration offences (Later sentenced to 23 years in prison by the Southwark crown court on 29 January 2016].

Some local authorities reacted to the May 1072 demos by introducing concessions in pupil representation, ILEA itself paid lip service to listening to pupils’ concerns. In the wake of the targeted SAU campaign throughout 1972, the Inner London Education Authority eventually defied pressure from the teaching unions and announced that by 1974, corporal punishment would be banned in all inner-London primary schools. ILEA gradually phased out corporal punishment for all ages in the late 1970s, several years before it was banned nationally in 1986.

Although the SAU fizzled out in 1974, they had forced the corporal punishment issue firmly into public debates on children’s rights. The ban on corporal punishment in London’s primary schools is perhaps their most recognisable achievement.

Many of the SAU’s other demands remain unfulfilled or at best partially conceded…


This post was edited together from several sources including:

Another Nickel in the Machine

No to the Cane

Children, Welfare and the State, edited by Barry Goldson, Michael Lavalette, Jim McKechnie

Worth reading also:

Sheila Rowbotham, Promise of a Dream

An account of some radicals engagement with rebellious schoolkids in a North London school, 1969

The 1985 School Strikes

Schoolkids rebel against the 2003 Gulf War