Occupy: coming to a secondary near you

20th January 2012 at 00:00
The protest movement's outreach programme is targeting schools

Whether you regard it as a noble act of resistance against the destructive forces of capitalism or just a bunch of lefties causing trouble, the Occupy protest outside St Paul's Cathedral in London has aroused strong passions at both ends of the political spectrum.

Since it was founded on 15 October, the camp has been a focal point for the global Occupy movement, which is working to highlight economic inequality, social injustice and corporate greed. The camp has not been without its controversies: it led to the week-long closure of the cathedral in late October and the fallout from plans to forcibly evict the protesters prompted the resignations of three senior church officials.

But after attracting dozens of young people to classes at its "Tent City University" during the October half-term, Occupy will next week take its outreach programme into a new arena: schools. The group has been invited to discuss how Occupy works in a citizenship class for 150 sixth-formers at the Bishop's Stortford High School in Hertfordshire.

Former English, drama and citizenship teacher and Occupy protester Jamie Kelsey-Fry, who is leading the school outreach campaign, told TES that several more schools are keen to organise visits. "What we are not going to do is tell young people what they should be concerned about," he said. "We will help them consider how to deal with issues they think are important. We have assemblies where everyone has their say equally; the students are encouraged to create their own campaigns."

Mr Kelsey-Fry insists pupils will not be indoctrinated with Occupy's beliefs. "We want them to further their own ways of engagement. It's not a recruiting situation. We just want to tell them what Occupy is about. We want to be empowering and enabling them so they become a more informed younger generation." And, with 23 years' experience of teaching in London schools, Mr Kelsey-Fry believes the group's ethos fits neatly into the citizenship curriculum.

The Bishop Stortford High School's head of citizenship, Simon Etheridge, who invited Occupy, agrees. "I invited Occupy to stimulate debate and discussion among the students about their politics and their world at the moment, as well as their views, for and against, about the protest outside St Paul's Cathedral," he said. "This will be balanced by future speakers ... We are not here to 'corrupt the young' - we host all respectable and appropriate political parties."

Not surprisingly, some have concerns. Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "I think schools should be open to all opinions but, in this particular case, I think it is something that is too controversial.

"It is unlikely they will present enough balance on this issue, given the emotion surrounding it at the moment. I don't think schools should be dabbling in current political issues. It's a dangerous area for them to get involved in."

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