The London school using i to explore the world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Stefano Hatfield went to Woolwich Polytechnic to find out why it buys 600 copies a week

If you went to a school where 45 per cent of the pupils do not speak English as a first language at home; where 50 pupils a year enter Year 7 without speaking any English at all; whose student body speaks up to 70 different language and where pupils come from pretty much any war zone that you read about in i – from Aghanistan to Somalia – you might have a different view of the news from people who did not come from one of the poorest areas of London.

In fact, the chances are that you may not be exposed to the serious news agenda. So, when we learned that one school in Thamesmead, South-east London, was buying 600 copies of i every Wednesday for use in reading and discussion groups, we accepted an invitation to visit and observe how what we produce every day was being put to use.

The 1,500-pupil Woolwich Polytechnic School (all boys until the mixed sixth form) has gone from "good" to "good with outstanding elements" to "outstanding" within three Ofsted reports. Its joint headteachers Byron Parker and Tim Plumb adopt a policy of "no excuses; every child, no matter his or her background, can achieve".

On our "tour"', i's head of marketing Ciara Battigan and I visited a Year 9 (13 and 14-year-olds) class to see all 28 of them studying i during a reading class – all except a couple of boys reading books, and one who was reading The Sun, that is. After a scary (for us) few minutes during which we were told what they thought of that day's i, we took questions about how we put the paper together and how we chose stories.

Later in the day, the fierce Katie Holmes, one of the two English teachers who spared time for us (alongside Tom Lawrence), brought us her class's written critiques of the paper – the best of which we print above, (and in my column on page 3).

It is perhaps not surprising that a news story about racism was higher up the Thamesmead pupils' interest list than it was during i's lunchtime news conferences, and a story about how most cancers are preventable might seem remote to a bunch of 13-year-olds.

It is clear that the average pupil at Woolwich (if there is such a thing) is tough on crime and believes more should be done to investigate the root causes of it.

Stories about crime were viewed in a very black-and-white fashion; sentences needed to be tough to deter people, but there was too much suspicion of ethnic minorities from the police and too little for people to do – especially those without any real prospect of a job in the area.

We spoke to a lecture hall full of sixth-formers about how i is produced and their ambitions to be journalists. I was bowled over by the fearless honesty of the questioning: "what are the beliefs that lie behind newspapers?", "how can you survive if you only cost 20p?", plus much incredulity at the sheer complexity of creating, editing, printing and distributing a newspaper.

As if to confirm what pupils really cared about, the drama performance laid on wasn't an excerpt from a twee musical, but something they had written themselves about this past summer's riots. There were two fine musical performances (under the auspices of a music teacher who was once drummer in Level 42) and a stunning interactive hip-hop dance-off, where i's editor learned a lot about krumping, popping and locking.

As the day went on Mr Parker would whisper to me "that boy's got Tourette's" or "he's not heard from his family since the Kabul bombing yesterday", or how yet another pupil was actually a stowaway refugee from Afghanistan. The individual challenges were endless. By the time it came to lunch, my head was spinning. The focus, intensity, energy and sheer dedication of the teaching staff and pupils alike were humbling and inspiring.

The joint headteachers, the pupils and the teaching staff have much to be proud of. And, seeing i being put to a genuinely positive force beyond the financial transaction of reader buying paper made this long-in-the-tooth editor very proud too.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week