Monday, April 22, 2013

Race row as Tory town says: We don't want your inner-city pupils here

Unless there's an exceptional level of discipline, the fears of the villagers will be realized

Education Secretary Michael Gove last night stepped into a bitter race row raging over an inner-city school’s plan to open its own boarding school in an affluent rural area.

The top-performing Durand Academy in Stockwell, near Brixton, South London, wants to transport 600 youngsters to a site with stunning views over the South Downs every Monday morning for lessons and bring them back on Friday  evenings, free of charge.

It says the scheme will provide them with ‘an Eton-style experience’ and help keep pupils safe from drugs and knife crime.

But the plan has been fiercely criticised by people living near the site – a disused boarding school in  the quiet village of Stedham, West Sussex. They have raised concerns about the number of black and Asian students and claimed that youngsters would need to be searched daily for drugs and weapons.

They have also accused Durand’s ‘super-head’ Greg Martin – who  has been described as a ‘hero’ by  Mr Gove – of ‘spoiling a tranquil place’ by ‘bringing Brixton to the countryside’.

But last night Mr Gove's spokesman hit back and attacked those ‘trying to obstruct an inspirational project’.

His intervention came after a local Tory county councillor expressed fears about the number of ethnic minority students who would attend the school.  John Cherry, 73, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Ninety-seven per cent of pupils will be black or Asian. It depends what type of Asian. If they’re Chinese they’ll rise to  the top. If they’re Indian they’ll  rise to the top. If they’re Pakistani they won’t.

‘There are certain nationalities where hard work is highly valued. There are certain nationalities where they are uncertain what this hard work is all about.

‘If the children are not allowed out of the site then it will make them want to escape into the forest – it will be a sexual volcano.

‘Has anyone asked whether these children want to be plucked from their natural surroundings? They have never done boarding before, so they won’t know how it works.

‘The trauma of taking the children out of their natural surroundings is going to be considerable.’

He added: ‘Stockwell is a coloured area – I have no problem with  that. To be honest, I would far rather Durand took over a secondary school in London rather than  shoving everybody here.’

Anne Reynolds, chairman of a  steering group which has been set up in the area to fight the plans, also questioned whether inner-city children would feel comfortable in such a rural environment.

She said: ‘It might raise tensions in their community. Their peers might say, “Why have you been chosen to go to a special, smart school in West Sussex but I haven’t?”

‘The whole thing is a massive experiment and I think it will be  disastrous. There’s no evidence it will increase their attainment  levels. When you’re a teenager, isn’t it too late to start appreciating the countryside? I don’t know if it’s the right environment.’

At a public meeting in the nearby village of Milland, where actor Hugh Bonneville has a home, one unnamed resident said: ‘You must be wary because you are talking about students who will have to be searched daily for weapons and knives.’ Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie is also ‘extremely unhappy’ with the way the project has been handled and has written to Mr Gove asking him to rethink the idea.

Mr Martin, Durand’s director  of education, last night described some of the comments from residents as ‘shocking’ but vowed to press on with the scheme. It is  hoped the boarding school will open next year.

He said: I’ve heard a few comments made about pupils escaping and I said I’m not building a prison.

‘It’s sad but it makes us want to fight harder for it, and when this councillor sees the hard work and commitment from ethnic minorities I’m sure he will change his tune.

‘At the moment, so many children are leaving our school well educated only to be utterly failed by the secondary system.

‘We want to get pupils away  from hanging around the streets of Brixton and Stockwell, where we have stabbings and a constant threat of trouble. It will be very hard to maintain a negative view when you see students working hard and contributing. You will soon realise these are frankly nothing more than baseless prejudices.’

A spokesman for Mr Gove said: ‘Durand has a superb record of helping some of our most disadvantaged pupils achieve brilliant results thanks to a rigorous curriculum, great teaching and sky-high expectations for all pupils.

‘Durand’s boarding school is a bold experiment and a chance to give inner-city youngsters a truly world-class education.’

And leading black Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng urged locals  to drop their opposition to the plan. Mr Kwarteng, whose parents came to Britain from Ghana and who was educated at Eton, said: ‘This school is a very good idea.

‘Obviously, the locals will have some concerns about it, but we have to give these children the chance to get a good education and a well-run boarding school in the English countryside is a perfect way to do that.

‘If the school is a success, as I am sure it will be, it will be a great credit to the pupils, teachers and the local community itself. When that happens everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.’

Durand is a primary school that has been rated as outstanding by schools watchdog Ofsted. But staff and governors are so concerned  about standards at local secondary schools that they used the proceeds from Durand’s leisure and student accommodation business to buy St Cuthman’s School, a Grade II listed building, for £3.4 million in 2010. They want to open it as a boarding school for pupils aged 13 to 19.

Mr Martin has said the idea stemmed from a desire to keep youngsters away from the ‘stabbings and constant threat of trouble’ in South London.

It secured a £17 million handout from the Government to help finance the project.

As an academy, Durand is outside local authority control, meaning it runs its own budgets and can even change the length of terms and the school day.

St Cuthman’s, which occupies 20 acres in an area of outstanding natural beauty, used to be run by the local county council for children with special needs but closed in 2004 and has remained empty since.

At his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2011, Mr Gove backed the idea of opening the boarding school. He also praised Mr Martin as a ‘hero’ after for transforming Durand.


Far-Left teachers hijacking protests against British free schools

A small cabal of far-Left teachers is orchestrating a series of strikes and aggressive campaigns against free schools and academies.

The militant activists are using the campaign group the Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) to orchestrate local opposition to the new schools, championed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, as a key plank of his education reforms.

The group’s three founding members are trained teachers and members of the Socialist Workers Party, a far-Left group whose goal is the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation shows that the alliance is a far cry from the grass-roots movement that it appears to be from its website.

One of the leaders — Nick Grant, a teacher in Ealing in west London — is paid by his local Labour-controlled authority to carry out duties full-time as an official with the National Union of Teachers.

Its other founders are Alasdair Smith, a history supply teacher and president of the Islington branch of the NUT in north London, and Ken Muller, a sixth-form college teacher and assistant secretary of the NUT’s Islington branch. Mr Muller also stood as a candidate for Respect, George Galloway’s socialist party.

Mr Muller has forcefully opposed the establishment of a free school in Hackney, the London borough where he lives. He is described on the alliance website as a concerned local parent, but it neglects to mention he is a co-founder of the organisation.

Another member is Hank Roberts, a union firebrand and president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

He led the occupation of a sports ground in Wembley in north-west London to try to prevent it being taken over by a now-hugely successful academy.

The alliance claims to campaign in 55 areas of Britain, and has organised demonstrations against academies and free schools and supported strikes, which have led to dozens of school closures.

But parents looking at its website would never know that its organisers are Socialist Workers Party (SWP) activists rather than simply a reflection of grass-roots concern over school changes. Parents who support the alliance may have been misled into thinking it is made up of like-minded people, not political ideologues.

Mr Gove branded the campaign “disgraceful” and accused the alliance of being an “SWP front”.

He told The Sunday Telegraph: “Free schools and academies are popular and drive up standards. It is disgraceful that unions and other far-Left groups are trying to thwart parents who just want a better education for their ­children.

“They defend schools that are failing and block plans for new schools even when parents want them and there is a vital need for new places.

“These people must put ­ideology to one side, and get behind teachers and parents who want to set up new schools with strong discipline, high-quality teaching and small class sizes.”

He added: “The Anti Academies Alliance lives in a parallel world in which the Berlin Wall never fell and central planning was the success story of the 20th century. Sadly, their priority is adult politics, not children’s education.”

The alliance works in tandem with the NUT, which has produced its own 53-page “toolkit” on how to oppose academies and free schools. It includes templates for protest letters, petitions and leaflets.

Critics believe that the AAA and affiliated unions are motivated by self-interest because they fear that teachers’ pay and conditions might be affected by the switch away from local-authority control.

The NUT has complained that academy status has “serious ramifications” for teachers, “putting at risk much that union members have negotiated in recent years”.

Academies have greater scope to set teachers’ pay and conditions, and can dismiss poor teachers more easily than local-authority schools, although most preserve the conditions of staff who have transferred.

Currently about half of England’s 3,200 secondary schools are academies or awaiting approval, and there are 81 free schools, with 100 more in the pipeline.

Head teachers of free schools and academies have complained about what they say are bullying tactics used against them.

Schools have been targeted in London, Sheffield, Oxford, Derby, Birmingham, Bedford, Hampshire and Lincolnshire.

Mark Lehain, the principal of Bedford Free School, suffered personal abuse when putting the case for his new school in the face of opposition from the alliance and its affiliates.

He said campaigners set up websites using the school name to confuse parents, and defamed him. “Amongst other things, those opposed to the school set up an attack blog, cyber-squatting on a version of our domain name so as to confuse parents,” said Mr Lehain. “They spread various rumours on Twitter and Facebook, and handed out libellous leaflets about us outside information events for parents.”

There is no evidence the AAA was behind the attacks, but his experience highlights how high feelings are running in the battle being fought.

He said a debate about the new school was “packed with trade union representatives”.

Mr Lehain said: “At one point I was asked by a member of the audience whether I had any links to News International, Enron or Halliburton — seriously? I’m a maths teacher.

“I was asked how my family were funding ourselves given that I had left my job [at his former school]. I explained that we were living on savings. Quick as a flash, a National Union of Teachers representative in the audience tweeted, 'He says he’s living on savings. I don’t believe him. We should launch an investigation into his financial affairs.’

“That summed up the type of mindset we were dealing with: if you want to do something in your local community, they felt they had the right to invade your privacy and hassle you, your family and friends.”

Toby Young, the bestselling author and Telegraph contributor, found himself under fire when he launched plans for a free school in west London.

A document compiled by Nick Grant and presented to the education authority was written on NUT-headed paper, accusing Mr Young of being unfit to run a free school.

He said: “He went through my self-deprecating memoirs and extracted the most embarrassing material and presented this as painstaking research, which concluded I was unfit to run a school.”

Mr Young described the state schools system as “the last redoubt of the hard Left”, adding: “There’s almost nothing they won’t do to hang on to it. It’s politics at its most brutal and cut-throat.”


Australia:  The academics who hate free speech

by John Speer

The Labor Government’s recent abandonment of Senator Stephen Conroy’s proposed media-regulation laws has brought an end to the greatest assault on free speech in Australia yet attempted. However, the battle is nowhere near over and it rages on in the most trivial of places.

For an an example of just how determined the left is to silence those with whom it disagrees, consider the  recent experience of the the Melbourne University Liberal Club. The MULC is a conservative student organisation that represents a clear minority in the political ecosystem that prevails on campus. Whilst not being directly affiliated with the Liberal Party, the club has adhered to and promoted the values of liberalism since 1925.

In the University of Melbourne’s Orientation Week in February of 2013, the MULC did as it has always done, and set about promoting itself to attract new members. Orientation Week has traditionally been our biggest recruitment drive of the year. In addition to manning our allocated booth at the Clubs & Societies Expo, we also set up a number of stalls around the Parkville campus. These stalls are generally decorated with various Liberal Party corflutes [plastic signs], publications, stickers, and various other promotional giveaways.

Merv Bendle's submission to a Senate panel looking into academic freedom

This year one of the corflutes, kindly donated to us, originated from the 2001 federal election campaign. This particular corflute pictured then-Prime Minister John Howard and his quote “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” On one particular day of O-Week, The Club displayed this corflute proudly at our stall, a reminder of one of the Howard government’s most successful policies.

Within minutes of displaying this corflute, members of the MULC were approached by university academics who believed it to be ‘racist’ and ‘disgusting’. In addition to this, they insisted we had no right whatsoever to display it at our stall. Senior members of The Club explained that whilst they were free to hold those opinions, we were perfectly within our rights to voice our own beliefs and display a piece of official election material.

With the debate ending rather quickly, our stall was soon approached by the University of Melbourne’s security staff, who stated they had received “complaints” about the corflute. They then ordered the MULC booth off campus.

After it was explained that all present were both MULC members and students of the university,  thus having a right to be present on university grounds, the security staff then attempted to remove the corflute from the grounds of the university.

Upon members reminding them that the corflute was the MULC’s private property, they placed it back on the stall.

In a desire not to inflame the situation, MULC members transported the stall off campus and onto public property in order to continue our membership drive.

Whilst this incident may seem trivial, it typifies the difficulties and harassment experienced by conservative and libertarian student organisations. The mentality of the left in the practice of freedom of speech, equating to “I don’t want to see it therefore it can’t be displayed”, is arrogant and abusive. We might also call it absurd, if not for the chilling glimpse of the totalitarian mindset determined to crimp and control all conversation and thought on campus.

And remember, it was not left students who complained about our display but academics, who should be dedicated to the free and unfettered discussion and dissection of ideas.

Not only do such attempts to gag fly in the face of the right to free speech and freedom of expression,  they demonstrate the unwillingness of the left on campus, and generally everywhere, to adhere to the basic principles of democracy. I am drawn to a quote from Voltaire’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, and often attributed in error to the philosopher himself. It is this: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Whilst the fight for freedom of expression and speech may be at a temporary ceasefire in Canberra, it continues to escalate in the tertiary institutions of this nation.


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