The Mail is reporting that Education Secretary Michael Gove has stepped into an extraordinary race row raging over an inner-city school’s plan to open its own boarding school in an affluent rural area. [Warning: prepare for jaw drop]…
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.
Update: Inevitably, this story is developing and it now appears the councillor has resigned and a political row has erupted about the original comments in the Mail. See also: