Fourth-form fifth columnists

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
The year was 1972. Chuck Berry was topping the charts with "My Ding-A-Ling" and Black Forest gateau was the pudding of choice. American troops were in retreat from Vietnam and British Paras were shooting Catholics. But the British Prime Minister had more important things on his mind: militancy among London's pupils.

Cabinet documents for 1972 released this week show Edward Heath in a blue funk over protests that year by the Schools Action Union - a pupil group campaigning against caning, uniforms and "headmaster dictatorship". Cabinet Secretary William Armstrong alerted not only the Department of Education and Science but the Home Office and security services, reporting Mr Heath's concern that "when a similar development occurred in France in 1968, it caused a good many problems".

A demonstration on May 24 had been comically unsuccessful (the pupils managed to lose a letter they had intended to deliver at County Hall) but the Home Office warned the revolutionaries were "not to be lightly regarded".

Fortunately for the pupils, perhaps, the Department of Education successfully counselled against cracking down on the radicals, warning that hasty action could create martyrs.

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