Skip to content

Celebrating The Stepney School Strike

November 12, 2021
by Alan Dein

A few places are available for my last-ever course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 20th & 21st. This is your final chance to come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Email to book a place.


Broadcaster Alan Dein introduces a celebration this Sunday afternoon at Queen Mary University in Mile End, remembering the Stepney School Strike of 1971

‘It was such an extraordinary event. I’ve wanted to do a painting of it for such a long time – and now I’ve done it!,’ admitted Dan Jones, artist and former community worker, speaking of his newly completed banner commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Stepney School Strike.

It is the latest painting in a lifetime’s work, depicting the day-to-day lives of Eastenders, past and present. What began as a small picture in acrylic is now a canvas larger than a school blackboard. Yet this is the ideal size to portray hundreds of striking school children and a familiar scale for an artist who has created many beautifully painted banners that have been carried through the East End streets, now hung in galleries, archives and – famously – at the TUC Headquarters.

When Nadia Valman & I visited Dan in Cable St for sneak preview of his painting before it is unveiled publicly this Sunday at the People’s Palace, he revealed his motivation for portraying the celebrated school strike which has a personal meaning for him.

‘The teacher Chris Searle is a friend,’ he told us, ‘this is the story of a gifted writer and remarkable bloke being sacked. He got up the noses of the school governors – at what was then ‘Sir John Cass’ – for publishing a book of his students’ poems, but he was a popular teacher. The kids were furious and eight hundred teenagers marched to Trafalgar Sq protesting and demanding that Chris got his job back.’

Dan Jones did not use archive photographs as a reference, nor did he have access to any portraits of the kids. His approach was to work from imagination and draw inspiration from friends who were there at the time.

‘I’ve painted in about two hundred of the eight hundred schoolchildren who refused to go through the school gates,’ Dan explained. ‘It conveys the positive power of young people. Organised by playground gossip, effectively the whole school said this is an outrage. I wanted to get images of determination and fight. I feel proud to be doing it. There are smiles, banners, some of the poems themselves, I’ve squeezed them in – and you’ll see a portrait of Chris Searle, that’s most probably the only correct part of the painting!’

Like Dan Jones’ other paintings of crowds and public gatherings, there is a wonderful sense of the atmosphere created by people brought together in a fleeting moment for a cause that will change them forever.

Fifty years on, Chris Searle, original Stepney poets and strikers, together with academics, community activists and poets are gathering at Queen Mary University this Sunday 14th November to discuss the legacy of Stepney Words and the school strike.

Now known as ‘Stepney All Saints,’ the school has invited Chris Searle and some of his class of 1971 to collaborate with a group of current pupils in poetry workshops, and film of these sessions will be screened.

‘There were remarkable people in that group of striking kids,’ concluded Dan Jones, ‘it’s a lovely end to the story that fifty years on the sacked teacher has been welcomed back and has taught again at the very school he was sacked from. To be welcomed back as an honoured friend – it’s completely bonkers, and lovely!’

Click here to book for STEPNEY WORDS FIFTY YEARS ON, 2-6:15pm Sunday 14th November 2021











You may also like to read about

Dan Jones, Artist

Dan Jones’ East End Portraits

3 Responses leave one →
  1. November 12, 2021

    Wonderful how the students fought for their teacher Chris Searle back then. Respect. — Here in Germany, there were and still are protests from time to time. It was once proclaimed: ” Destroy what destroys you!”.

    Strikes in England have a long tradition. Historically, the Welsh Miners’ strike in 1985. Here is the wonderful music for it:

    Love & Peace

  2. November 12, 2021

    Chris Searle was the ONLY person to help print a book of poems for me when I was a boy.
    Thanks to Ron McCormick too for the front cover and Centreprise in Hackney for printing it.
    I had tried so hard for over a year and scored one goal with a poem on the entire back page of “Loving” magazine.. No wonder 800 kids walked out in strike for him.

    We need more teachers like Chris Searle. Thank you Mr Oldham too from Davenant for giving me the knowledge poetry existed.
    Well done Dan Jones and Gentle Suthor for pribting this piece.

    I have tried so many times to read my piems in schokls and I did it some of the tine.
    Any school out there want to hear my poems then please let me know. No fee!
    Thank you,


  3. keithpeter permalink
    November 12, 2021

    @Andy: have you thought of podcasting a selection of your work so school teachers could listen to a sample and decide how to base a lesson off the work? Just an idea.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS