I'm just an ordinary boy who wants more homework... from teachers who turn up to class on time: Pupil who went on strike at school speaks out for the first time

  • Schoolboy from Blackpool, says strike wasn’t about being famous
  • Aaron Parfitt, 14, says it was about prospects later in life
  • He called strike because he needed help at maths
  • Felt he wasn't being given enough homework that would help him along
  • Was excluded for two days after leading the strike and sit-in
Aaron Parfitt, 14, who organised a pupil walk-out at his school because they were being taught by too many supply teachers (and not getting enough homework)

Aaron Parfitt, 14, who organised a pupil walk-out at his school because they were being taught by too many supply teachers (and not getting enough homework)

As maths problems go, it’s not a tricky one.

One despairing schoolboy minus one full-time maths teacher plus two flunked GCSE options exams equals a classroom crisis.

When Aaron Parfitt, 14, called a wildcat walkout of pupils to protest about poor standards in maths teaching at his Blackpool high school, he caused a national debate about the prospects for pupils at the 416 British schools in special measures.

Now, in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, he reveals that he felt he had to take a stand after he scored just 16 out of a possible 95 in a double maths exam designed to help him choose his GCSE options.

He called the strike because he actually wanted extra help with his maths, felt he needed more homework to help him get on, and was fed up with the endless run of supply teachers who failed to turn up on time.

‘I am a normal schoolboy, in the middle set for most things and definitely not very good at maths,’ Aaron says. ‘But I have to have a maths pass at GCSE.

This is a pivotal point, you have to knuckle down and get on. I do not want to amble out of school at 16 without decent qualifications.

‘The strike wasn’t about being famous for a few minutes or about making trouble for my school, which I love.

It is about my prospects and the success I want to have in life after I have left.

I do not want to move schools because that defeats the object of the exercise which is to make my school better for everyone. I will move if I have to, but what about the other children there? How does that help them?’

The schoolyard strike at Bispham High in Blackpool on March 12 made Aaron a teen folk hero and garnered headlines around the world.

It also saw him excluded for two days and facing a critical reception from some older pupils when he returned last Tuesday.

But he does not regret his actions – even though they further embarrassed a school where, according to Ofsted in January 2013 ‘standards are low and have declined’.

Bispham High School, Blackpool - where Aaron organised his sit in to protest against lack of work

Bispham High School, Blackpool - where Aaron organised his sit in to protest against lack of work

On Friday, a third interim report concluded it must stay in special measures.

This comes as no surprise to Aaron, whose Year Nine maths lessons lost any rigour when his maths teacher left at Christmas.

‘The teacher who took over from her lasted a fortnight, if that, and then left,’ he says. ‘And that’s when it started to go downhill.

'We were left to do what we wanted; people were eating and drinking in lessons, chatting to friends, not concentrating, just not learning.’

There followed, Aaron estimates, a carousel of six or seven different teachers, some supply, some staff maths teachers drafted in from other classes, before a new teacher was appointed three weeks ago.

Some taught him just once, meaning he rarely got the help, or the homework, he needed.

He lavishly praises the teacher who left. Asked why, he says: ‘She taught us. She was always in class on time, she helped us, acknowledged our effort, she set us homework and marked our books.’

As a result of the shambles, Aaron complained. He approached a staff maths teacher as well as his own head of year and then saw Bispham’s acting head, Deborah Hanlon-Catlow.

When he did not feel he was being taken seriously, he emailed Blackpool Borough Council and Ofsted.

'...I don't want to leave without qualifications...'

And then, at 12.15pm on March 12, he organised a demonstration outside classroom DO1, his old maths class.

He had invited 20 like-minded pupils, but soon the numbers doubled and Aaron had to direct the crowd out to the school field where they sang We Shall Not Be Moved.

Teachers came running, believing a fight was in progress.

Aaron was ready. ‘I admitted everything. I  had a piece of paper with two bullet points on it. The first point said grades and the second said teaching.

'I didn’t have a plan or a script apart from that – I’d only thought  of it the night before and I hadn’t even confided in my mum.

‘I got the idea of a strike after watching walkouts on the TV. I told my teachers I was sorry but at least I’d got their attention. They said it wasn’t a good kind of attention, that it wasn’t respectful, but I didn’t care. I was glad I finally had some.’

Aaron loves his school, rates  many of his teachers and admires Mrs Hanlon-Catlow, who he says is ‘all about education, very approachable and can get things done’.

Yet he, rather than the creaking superstructure of Bispham High, was blamed for the mutiny and excluded for two days.

‘I was shocked,’ he says. ‘I thought I might get detention but I’m not a serial offender, I don’t fight or cause trouble. I have been criticised by kids who are not in my year but my friends are supportive.’

As are his parents, Janet Monkman, 52, who works in a sandwich shop, and taxi driver Philip Monkman, 64.

Aaron comes from an ordinary family – two hard-working parents who live in a semi and whose budget stretches no further than an annual break in a British holiday camp.

Janet says: ‘Aaron is a lovely boy; he’s kind, well behaved and responsible.

'He is stubborn but in a good way. He won’t back down if  he believes in something. He has achieved what he set out to and we are proud of him for that.’

If you were to give marks for resourcefulness, Aaron would get  an A+. He got himself a role as an extra in Coronation Street last year and works as a reporter for the children’s pages of his local paper.

As for the school, it can’t comment on Aaron, but Mrs Hanlon-Catlow said: ‘This is undoubtedly a challenging time. However, we continue to try to improve teaching standards.’

Bispham’s motto is The Best For All, The Best From All, but despite those bold words, its end-of-term report is still going to read: ‘Could  do better.’

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