‘Together, we’ll flourish’: the Birmingham school tackling segregation

It takes 14-year-old Cameron Matuvangua-Fernandez more than an hour to get to school. He gets up at 6.15am each morning and starts his day drinking hot chocolate out of a Winnie the Pooh mug when most children are still asleep. The Guardian reports.

The city is enveloped in darkness when Cameron leaves the house at 7.15am to get his first bus. He meets his friends in the city centre, who tease and jostle each other, before they board their second bus of the morning. The school is based in a leafy suburb in south Birmingham, but Cameron lives in one of its three other catchment areas, which are located in far more deprived parts of the city.

The University of Birmingham school (UoBS), which Cameron and Harriet attend, is one of the only secondary schools in the country to have four catchment areas across the city. The school opened in 2015 with a simple belief: “Together, we’ll flourish.”

James Arthur, a professor at the school of education at the University of Birmingham, and the founder of UoBS says: “Birmingham is quite segregated. You have an east side of Birmingham that’s predominantly Muslim and Pakistani origin and you have a south side, where we are today, which is predominately white and more affluent. We were very conscious that we didn’t want to have another school in the south of Birmingham that would just reflect the south of Birmingham.”

The school believes the multiple catchment areas, known as “nodes”, could be key to tackling segregation. In Selly Oak, where the school is based, 71.8% of the population is white, 11% is Asian and 5.8% is black. But UoBS’s cohort is far more reflective of the city’s diversity. White students make up 42% of the school’s population, Asian students make up 26%, and black students make up 16%. Children on free school meals make up 20% of the school and 4.5% of students have a statement plan.

Cameron, who attended a Catholic primary school, says: “Religion is another key thing as well. In my primary school, there was no Muslim religion or anything. When I came to secondary school, it was nice to get to know other religions and see what they get up to.”

The diverse cohort proves to be a challenge to a school that is committed to mixed ability classes and inclusion. “The ability range between classes is absolutely huge and it can become an issue for some students. So for those students who really need the extra support, a decision was taken to develop an intervention group and we can really target them so they maximise their learning time,” says Kevin Cobane, a primary school specialist who started at the school a few months ago.

Read the full article ‘Together, we’ll flourish’: the Birmingham school tackling segregation

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