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Primary Education News
News Hampstead School's 'anarchist' blogger should not face censure | Rowenna Davis
A headteacher's decision to report 19-year-old Kinnan Zaloom to police for a blog critical of the school stifles free thought
Nineteen-year-old Kinnan Zaloom has been reported to the police by his former headteacher – for writing a Private Eye-style blog criticising the way his school is run. The head of this north London comprehensive has banned Kinnan from the school grounds and called his chosen university to warn them of accepting this "developing anarchist". It's a story that cuts to the heart of what's going wrong in British schools. It raises the question – what's education really about?
Kinnan's blog, the Hampstead Trash, is full of expletives, but it is not illegal nor violent. Instead, the teenager used the blog to attack the school's spending decisions and GCSE performance. In particular, he argued that more money should be spent on music and gym equipment and less on promotional material. He also called for a massive increase in the student voice, which he claimed was massively under-represented. Now that he's been shut out, his point seems sadly to have been proved.
This issue cuts deep with me, because I'm a former student of Hampstead School. Yes we were always balancing on the verge of anarchy. When the Iraq war broke out we walked out of class in protest. We set up debating societies and took on the privatised school canteen by organising a boycott against unhealthy food. We learned most from questioning everything and being encouraged to think independently by our great teachers. I have no doubt that this is what allowed me and my friends to take on Eton in debates and win, and follow the careers we wanted. We crossed lines sometimes, but without that we'd just be a set of bored kids churning out spoon-fed answers.
Then there's the issue of freedom of the press, and indeed freedom of thought. The headteacher had the blog banned from school computers. When asked what worried him about the posts, he told the local paper that Kinnan had "mentioned the ideologies of anarchism and individualism" and that he had a responsibility to tip off his chosen university about a student who "thinks thoughts like these".
Just think about that for a moment – what does "too much individualism" even mean? Should we criminalise works on the philosophy of anarchism? Kinnan, whose family is from Jordan, said he was powerfully alive to these threats on liberty. Personally, I find him less of a threat than his headteacher.
A school should be charged with opening thoughts up, not closing them down. But increasingly we're seeing a change in the culture of education that rewards branding over substance, desperate as schools are to have good PR so that they can attract "nice" students from "nice" families that will get impressive results in an ever more competitive school market. The response is to do the exact opposite of what the secretary of state for education wants – more free thinking, rather than the homogeneity and rigid discipline being implemented, that allows no space for the questioning of authority and power.
If Kinnan had been a year younger, his exclusion from school grounds would have prevented him taking his A-levels. More than that, the head is sending a dangerous message to the rest of the school about what education means. So far the blog is being kept up by an anonymous student. I just hope that the rest of the students of my old school continue to have faith in the good teachers who are there, and find their voice.