On Thursday 27th May 1971, exactly 50 years ago, hundreds of East End schoolchildren went on strike. They were protesting about the dismissal of English teacher Chris Searle from their Stepney school. He’d published ‘Stepney Words’ a poetry anthology compiled from his pupils work written in his English classes. The poems were raw and direct, but the school were not impressed. The strike continued the following day with a march with banners aloft to Trafalgar Square.
The aftermath saw a 2nd edition of Stepney Words, the student poets reading on national TV and at poetry festivals, the creation of working class community workshops and arts projects in the East End and beyond, and after 2 years the re-instatement of Searle at the Stepney school. The strikers were finally vindicated - but Searle moved on, unhappy at being ostracised by fellow teaching staff. He eventually became a head teacher in Sheffield - and still keeps in touch with the Stepney poets and strikers.
|Cover of the first edition of Stepney Words, published in March 1971|
|Chris Searle and students outside the school gates, 27th May 1971|
|Stepney school strikers and their banner held high|
|28th May 1971, the strikers reach Trafalgar Square|
|Stepney Words 2, published in September 1971|
STEPNEY WORDS: A collection of Poetry by Stepney children aged 11 to 15 years. Stepney Words "is designed as a community communication and is published by Reality Press c/o 20 Princelet Street, E1. Edited by Chris Searle and photography and layout by Ron McCormick"
A selection of the poetry: