A View From The Sidelines

Stoke-on-Trent By-Election > A view from the sidelines

Our academy is not in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency. We sit right on the border in Stoke-on-Trent between the north and the central constituencies.  One of our main feeder primary schools and many of our students live in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency.

First of all, I am not a Stokie. I am a Manc, and a very proud one.  Despite the fact I have worked at this academy for seven years I still feel a slight outsider.  However I have always found the community welcoming, open and honest. In fact it symbolises the values that we base our academy on. Ofsted referred to the "culture of tolerance and respect that permeates the academy".

This by-election made me nervous right from the time when Tristram Hunt vacated his seat. There were two main reasons for this. The first was UKIP's well publicised interest in the seat. Stoke-on-Trent was quickly tagged as "Brexit capital of Britain".  It was made even worse when Paul Nuttall decided to stand, confirming that UKIP and all the politics of division that they bring were coming to Stoke-on-Trent.  I'm not going to get into Brexit here. But as an academy and a community we have to deal with the effect of such decisions. Some of our staff and students have been left feeling profoundly unsettled.  It will always stay with me that one of our students was verbally abused in the street by an adult with his child on her way to school the day after the referendum. Previous norms of our community appeared to have been up rooted.

The second thing to concern me was the media coverage of our city. Whether we like it or not the media in this country are incredibly London-centric.  When people have very little experience of your town or city, they tend to resort to lazy stereotypes. Talk to any Scot, Welsh person, Northerner etc about the media's often negative stereotypes of them and you get the same wry cynicism of the media. 

And so it began.....

We were not disappointed by either side. Paul Nuttall saying he wanted to "save" our city. UKIP supporters bussed in from all over the UK. A UKIP campaign which had an undercurrent of prejudice in a multicultural community.  

Even worse was the attitude of most of the media in labelling Stoke-on-Trent as the "Brexit capital of Britain". There was a sneering sense of superiority about the tone of many of the articles. Stoke-on-Trent was seen as some kind of cultural backwater capable of electing the leader of UKIP as their MP. There was a narrative underlying the media coverage that I witnessed that I regarded as profoundly unjust and unwarranted. Stokies as we know can often put their city down, but it's their city and that's their right. Woe betide an outsider who does this.  Stokies will not allow anyone to look down upon them. 

I have worked in this city for seven years and witnessed a dramatic shift change in how the city perceives itself. The city's schools and therefore the aspirations of the city have improved dramatically.  More recently I have seen business, enterprise and employment opportunities begin to mushroom in the city.  Engineering, ceramics and logistics taking centre stage.  The city is bidding to be the city of culture in 2021 and it has a real chance of succeeding. No one in Stoke-on-Trent believes that we are anywhere near where we need to be but things have started to improve. We as an academy are at the centre of this. We have to improve the educational outcomes in the city, but we are also leaders of a community.  A community that sometimes needs picking up and dusting down.  But a community that will not allow itself to be patronised and split.  

The newspapers have gone, the politicians have moved on and the same people who work hard to improve this community are left to carry on as normal. But that's just fine, because the biggest strength of the city is its people. Here's to a bright future. 

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