Saturday morning, and Stevenage appears to be bracing itself for a riot. Police cars block off road after road. Sirens scythe the air. Officers hurry about in hi-vis. And at the eye of this storm is not some motley crew of furious insurgents, but hundreds of children and mums and dads, marching last weekend to save the school they love.
“We are a small town and we aren’t used to staging demonstrations,” says councillor Josh Bennett Lovell, which explains both the law-and-order overkill and the bright-eyed kids enjoying all the excitement of a big day out. Only when the marchers hit the town square does the carnival spirit give way to speeches highlighting the seriousness of their situation.
Should these fighters lose, on Friday the Barclay school will be handed over to an academy trust based 35 miles away in central London that has, they say, barely shown its face at the secondary, let alone talked to staff or parents. That will be despite months of protest by the head and governors, a series of strikes by teachers, packed meetings with worried locals, and parents and children taking to the streets. Into the mic roars Pete Hawkins: “We want to work with a partner, not have a dictatorship come in!”