Sunday, June 17, 2007
The sponsors of the proposed Heartsease Academy held a well-attended public meeting to ‘consult’ local people. Judging by the press reports the only individuals supporting the plan were… Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich.
They made three promises to parents: not to ever try to turn the proposed academy into a faith school, that it would continue to teach religious education according to the current Norfolk syllabus, and that the school's current admission policy would continue to apply.
There were encouraging signs that the parents haven’t been taken in by the glossy publicity about the new £20 million school. As Heartsease is an improving not a failing school why not just give it the money? Concerns were also raised about the fact that on the new governing body there will be one parent, one local authority representative and one member of staff, the rest will be from the sponsors and who will appoint the lion’s share? Will it be Graham Dacre with his £1.95 million investment or the Bishop of Norwich with £50,000?
The proposed academy would have 950 pupils compared to the 400 that currently attend Heartsease, so with falling pupil numbers that will inevitably impact on other schools in the area. A brand new school with state of the art facilities against crumbling old schools with leaky roofs, now I wonder which one parents will choose? Through no fault of their own other local schools will close because parents have ‘chosen’ the new academy.
So the new academy is over-subscribed, particularly as other local schools close, what will be the selection criteria? Will the governors appointed by Graham Dacre introduce faith-based criteria? Academies are also able to select a certain percentage of pupils. The Heartsease children may end up with the situation where they will have to travel to other schools.
A recent study by the Institute for Public Policy Research compared the progress of pupils in 3,000 secondary schools in England with the social make-up of their local area. It found that faith schools were the least reflective of their local area. They were nearly 10 times more likely to have a higher proportion of able pupils than their local area might suggest. Meanwhile state foundation schools, many of which select a proportion of their pupils by ability and aptitude, were six times more likely to have a higher share of high-ability pupils than were in their local area.
The most extreme example of this phenomenon is Canon Slade Church of England School in Bolton. In 2005 it admitted 268 children from 87 different primary schools, the eight primary schools within easy travelling distance sent just 39 children. Canon Slade is almost completely white in an area with a large black and Asian population. Only 6% of its children were SEN against a Bolton average of 27%. Parents at the nearest primary school told a reporter that they didn’t even bother to apply, “It’s not for the likes of us.”
One parent raised doubts about the proposed “Christian ethos” and said there was a wide interpretation of this, for example right-wing American fundamentalists may take a different view to other Christians. They must be extremely polite people in Norwich. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the meeting but the three questions I would have asked Graham Dacre are,
1) Do you believe abortion is murder?
2) Do you think homosexuality is a sin?
3) Do you believe that the earth was created 6,000 years ago?
All of these are pretty much standard Pentecostalist positions. I’ll carry on asking the question in the hope that Graham Dacre will eventually reply. The main point is this, would you really want someone with these views running your school?