Pink Floyd - Another Brick in the Wall

(This video is not suitable for children and contains some violent scenes).

A warning of what happens when the state tries to regiment education.

Just another brick in the wall?
Children from the Wall

By Denise Winterman 
BBC News Magazine

Everyone's heard Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall - but the story of how a handful of children got to sing on the track recalls an era of starkly different schooling values from those held today.

It was a tough, inner-city comprehensive, but Islington Green has ended up becoming entwined in the public imagination with one of music's biggest non-conformist anthems of all time - Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall.

And at the heart of the story of how a group of school children from north London came to sing on one of music's most iconic records is a maverick music teacher who used to chain smoke in class and swear at his students.

Pink Floyd
Roger Waters, with Pink Floyd, during a performance of The Wall

The song - punctuated throughout with the line "We don't need no education" - was written by Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and was inspired by his own schooling in the 1950s. It was a protest against the strict regime he felt had tried to suppress children, rather than inspire them.

But in 1979, when the band was recording the album The Wall, education was changing and they were in a studio just around the corner from one of the schools at the vanguard of the new comprehensive movement.

The Brick in the Wall Kids
Wed 3 October
2240BST, BBC One
Islington Green was one of the biggest comps in London, and a struggling one. A new head teacher had been drafted in to turn it around.

Margaret Maden's aim was to introduce a more progressive teaching style, for lessons to be "informal but not sloppy". It was this vision that resulted in the appointment of music teacher Alun Renshaw.

'Bizarre' lessons

The borough's music inspector asked the head to employ a very gifted teacher who no-one else was "willing to take the risk on". Mr Renshaw certainly wasn't like any other member of staff. He smoked in class, swore at his students and fellow teachers and wore the "tightest jeans he could possibly get into".

Alun Renshaw, then and now
Alun Renshaw was a 'risky' teacher
Lessons were often bizarre, including going round the school hitting walls and listening to the sound they made. But for his students, he provided a safe place to be, where they could be themselves.

"I had this intense, emotional home life and it gave me hope that there was something beyond the misery of my existence," says former student Tabitha, who sang on the record.

Caroline, who also sang, was bullied because she was from a wealthy family.

"Very quickly I gravitated towards the music department, because it was a safe place to be," she says. "Otherwise I don't honestly know how I would have got through."

Cause celebre

It was just an average school day when Pink Floyd's manager and sound recordist turned up looking for children to sing on the record.

Waters was pleased with his song, but knew he needed another element to make it work. "I had this sound in my head of kids, London kids," he says.

Bypassing the head teacher's office, they ended up in the music room, where the unconventional Mr Renshaw was always looking for ways to broaden his students' musical horizons. He jumped at the chance.

 It gave me a sense that I could achieve things and that I should go on and do what I want 
Sybilla (above, then and now)
He took a handful of excited kids out of class and marched them round to the studio. They were given the words and asked to sing.

"We sang like the school choir," says Caroline. "They said: 'No, we don't want you to do that, we want you to sing like you're in the playground.'"

Waters says he will always remember the first time he heard the final recording of the song.

"I still have hairs standing up on my arms and everywhere just remembering the sound... hearing those kids sing."

Yet the message of the song was not easy to swallow.

"When I saw what the lyrics were, of course I went: 'Oops'," says Mr Renshaw. "I had to go and talk to Margaret about it. By that time of course it was a bit too late to back down."

She was not happy but had no idea of the extent of the trouble the song would cause. She found the criticism of her and the school hard to take.

"It became a sort of cause celebre and it just felt as though the whole world had crashed in on us, or on me particularly," she says.

Head teacher Margaret Maden
Margaret Maden was hurt by criticism
"That was really very, very hard to take because we had built up the school into something. It was good and it was getting better. "

The pupils were also upset when they weren't allowed to be in the video for the song because they didn't have Equity cards. Stage-school students had to mime the words.

For singing on the album, the children got tickets to a Pink Floyd concert, an album, a single and - most importantly - a certain celebrity around school.

Disillusioned with the education system, Mr Renshaw moved to Australia shortly after. "One could see and feel the clouds of conservatism heading towards the school system at the time," he says.

'Eccentric nutter'

Ms Maden went on to another teaching post and the pupils who'd sung on the track also started to leave. They have gone on to lead varied lives, but some feel let down by the education they got.

"I don't think I learnt anywhere near as much as I could have done," says Caroline. "If I'd been at a far more disciplined school, then an awful lot more time would have been taken up with teaching and much less with crowd control."

Some launched a bid in 2004 for thousands of pounds in unpaid royalties for singing on the record. The case is still pending.

But others credit Islington Green with opening up a whole new world to them.

"Islington Green gets slagged off, but we had really innovative teachers and it made me," says Tabitha, who went on to become a teacher herself.

Caroline and fellow pupil/singer Simon then and now
Caroline and fellow pupil/singer Simon then and now
"It didn't give me the perfect English education, but it gave me a sense that I could achieve things and that I should go on and do what I want," says Sybilla, now a solicitor and partner in a law firm.

The school itself is now due to close and be rebuilt as a city academy.

For Ms Maden, Another Brick in the Wall is a bitter-sweet episode in her teaching career.

"I'd rather the horrors of the Pink Floyd episode hadn't happened," she says. "But if I had to choose that happening as opposed to Alun Renshaw... I'd choose Alun being there any time, any day because he had a good effect on the children. He made a difference to their lives."

But Ms Maden knows most schools would not tolerate him today.

"I think schools, and I think children, need that kind of eccentric nutter, as long as they're producing the goods. A school couldn't have nothing but Aluns, it would collapse instantly, but just one like that is a very good idea."

ONE Life: The Brick in The Wall Kids is broadcast on Wednesday, 3 October at 2240 BST on BBC One.