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‘Baverstock in the City targets Gypsy and traveller children, those for whom English is not their first language and pupils with challenging behaviour’ (BBC website 13 September)

Birmingham CASE has written to the Sparkhill councillors and MP Roger Godsiff to express our concerns about the proposed Free School which is being planned to open in Sparkbrook ward, on the Moseley Rd. Here is our letter:

‘The ONE Free School’ is being proposed by Baverstock Academy, which is a considerable distance away near the Maypole. It is intending to open, prior to receiving approval to become a Free School, as an annex of Baverstock in the near future. It has an Open Day/Evening on 15 October. (See http://www.baverstock.bham.sch.uk/user/74/128920.pdf)

This leaflet states that ‘We believe that it is the ‘right’ of all students to be educated in a fully inclusive and mainstream school’. However, the proposed new school is far from being a ‘fully inclusive and mainstream school’. On the contrary, as the BBC News website reported on 13 September, ‘Baverstock in the City targets Gypsy and traveller children, those for whom English is not their first language and pupils with challenging behaviour’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-24060831).

The BBC report continued: ‘Thomas Marshall, head teacher of The Baverstock Academy, said: “There are close to 900 Gypsy Romany traveller children without a school place at the moment.” “The number of students with English as a second language is growing and growing across the city as people move into Birmingham and they don’t have school places because they tend to move into the centre of the city where there aren’t enough secondary schools.” ‘An application to turn it into a free school has been prepared, which would give it a capacity of 1,000 students.’

The Free School would be run by Baverstock Academy, which claims on its website to be ‘the MOST IMPROVED School in the country 2012 and top 1% of schools nationally 2013’.

There are several issues here which give cause for concern.

First, and most importantly, is it educationally justifiable to segregate Romany children in a single separate school, rather than integrate them into their local schools? In our view no. Damien Le Bas, editor of the Travellers’ Times, spoke in the BBC report, of his concern about segregation and said ‘I benefited enormously through being in a mixed school with people with high expectations’. We recognise that, as he also said, ‘Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers report problems with school that includes bullying and teachers that misunderstand their ethnicity’, but the answer is for schools to address these issues, not exclude these children in a separate school.

Second, we question the Baverstock headteacher’s claim that ‘There are close to 900 Gypsy Romany traveller children without a school place at the moment’. Where is the evidence? What is the LA doing to address this appalling situation? Or isn’t it actually the case that this is a grossly exaggerated figure plucked out of thin air to in an attempt to bolster the case for the Free School?

Third, a practical issue. How are these claimed 900 children, spread out around the city, supposed to travel to Sparkhill each day? Wouldn’t it be much better, on practical grounds alone, for them to go to their nearby local schools?

Fourth, we question the claim that Baverstock Academy is ‘the MOST IMPROVED School in the country 2012 and top 1% of schools nationally 2013’. What evidence is this based on?

Fifth, the school aims to admit 1000 pupils. What would be the effect on neighbouring schools? What consultation has taken place with them? Any at all?

Could the proposed ‘ONE Academy’ end up as a convenient unofficial Pupil Referral Unit for the pupils that other schools are reluctant to take or keep because they lower their exam scores?

We believe these are important issues which concern everyone in the city with an interest in education, including of course you as local councillors, and we hope you will be able to enquire into and clarify them.

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