Thursday, May 31, 2007

Heartsease 'Consultation'

The proposal by Graham Dacre (millionaire former second hand car dealer turned evangelical Pentecostalist preacher) to turn Heartsease High School in Norwich into an academy is going out for public consultation. Norwich council are sending out a questionnaire to the 30,000 people who live in the Heartsease area. Three public meetings will also be held to gauge opinion.

Of course much will depend how the council explain the issue in their leaflet. Up to now they have played the role of ‘dishonest broker’ almost inviting Graham Dacre to take the school off their hands.

On the face it the academy proposal might seem a no-brainer. Here’s this lovely Christian guy, supported by the Bishop of Norwich who wants to donate £2 million for a new school. Not only that the government will bung in an extra £20 million to build a brand new state-of-the-art facility. The proposed academy will specialise in engineering and environmental issues. Everyone has been reassured that ‘all faiths will be welcome’ and the RE syllabus be the Church of England’s own. Even the local M.P. and former Education Secretary Charles Clarke is backing the academy.

With apologies to Graham Dacre it’s a bit like buying a second hand car. There it is gleaming on the forecourt, the bodywork immaculate, you open the door and the interior is spotless. The salesman has the patter ready, ‘one careful owner and a year’s MoT’. However, you lift the bonnet and start to worry. Once you take it for a drive round the block there’s oil leaking everywhere, the engine backfires and the clutch is on its last legs.

Pardon me for asking but what knowledge, experience or understanding does Graham Dacre have about education? His Lind Trust will have a majority on the governing body of the new school and will control its ethos, curriculum and staffing. Just who is in control of the bid? Is it Graham Dacre with his £1.95 million or the Church of England with £50,000?

Could anyone answer the simple question, as Heartsease High School is officially ‘improving’ and isn’t ‘failing’, why not just it the money?

The record of the existing academies is patchy, true some have had ‘outstanding’ reports from Ofsted, but then others haven’t. In December 2006 former transport minister Karen Buck took her son out of Paddington Academy because the teaching facilities and accommodation were ‘appalling’. Then there are those wacky people in Peterborough who have designed an academy school – without a playground.

Lastly, there is the elephant in the cupboard. For some years Graham Dacre was a prominent member of Proclaimers International, a group linked to the American based Assemblies of God. They view abortion and homosexuality as ‘a sin’ and that, “The Bible record of creation rules out the evolutionary philosophy.”

In 2004 he left Proclaimers International and founded Drayton Hall Church, subsequently in 2006 he merged with Mount Zion Family Life Church to form Norwich Family Life Church. Mount Zion acknowledge on their web site that, ‘Over the years we have had the privilege of hosting a range of world-class speakers who have spoken into the life of our church. They have included Rick Godwin, Ed Cole, Henry Hinn, John Bevere and Phil Dooley.’ All of these gentlemen are Pentecostalists with particular ‘views’ on ‘modern lifestyles’.

Could Graham Dacre enlighten us all? What are his views on abortion and homosexuality? Also does he believe that the world was created 6,000 or even 10,000 years ago?

There are some interesting parallels between the great academy sell-off and the attempt to off-load council housing to ‘not-for-profit’ organisations. You live in a damp ridden house where the windows are ready to fall out and the rent is astronomical, a glossy leaflet falls through your door offering a bright future with no rent increases and the promise of a speedy repair service, not only that they will totally refurbish and modernise your house. The early ballots on council house transfers showed whopping majorities to leave council control.

Then the reality check set in, rents began to increase exponentially, there was no security of tenure and the ‘refurbishment’ turned out to be, literally, a glossy coat of paint. In most of the recent ballots there have been large majorities to stay with the council – better the devil you know… The excellent ‘Defend Council Housing’ organisation is asking for rents to be ring fenced for repairs. The government are now preparing to scrap ballots and transfer housing stock anyway, so much for democracy.

I hope people in Heartsease make it loud and clear they don’t want an academy. As for ‘consultations’, the government don’t have a great track record, even where the overwhelming majority of opinion is opposed they’ll just carry on regardless.

I’m not certain whether I would have bought a second hand car from Graham Dacre but I certainly wouldn't want him running any schools.

Anti-Academies Alliance


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