Social segregation, myopia and good connections

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Lucy and I attended the Anti Academies Alliance conference today. I talked briefly in the community opposition workshop, and for a short time at the free schools workshop. In that workshop, several light bulbs went off.

The first was piqued by a comment in the audience - that Rivendale Free School was appearing in Brent. For those who do not know, we opposed Rivendale Free School and put them on the back foot. I never managed to catch up with the gentleman who made the comment but I have found a blog post on the Wembley Matters website which discusses this. If anyone reading is from Brent and is concerned about this, please contact us.

The second was listening to the very moving speaker Sara Tomlinson from Lambeth. She made a comment which was cause for pause.

The comment came in the context of discussing social segregation, and was in regards to the free school in Lambeth holding meetings in local pubs.

It was like deja vu - Rivendale did the same thing. They wanted to be a 'Shepherds Bush' community school - but the proposed locations were in the admittedly more geographically contained, less mobile, more homogenous area of Addison Ward. Shepherd's Bush is extremely diverse, mobile and strongly Muslim.

Rivendale had just been battered out of a location which is 150m from a 45% Muslim population primary school - and they held their open evening at a local pub. As many who are connected to their diverse communities well know, it is haraam (forbidden) for many Muslims to go to pubs.

The venue was secret until the last minute, as they likely did not want 'us' showing up - but when we learned of the location, we were stunned. It may be that the venue was suggested by the local 'interested parents'. Some were vocal in seeking a different provision for their children because ... 'there are good schools, but there are a lot of EAL kids...' However, even if you give the free school the benefit of the doubt, hosting there could be seen as ignorant and myopic.

How can one claim to want to represent and include the community if it does not make efforts to learn **how** to include, in the most fundamental ways, the community which it claims to want to serve ? It does not hold out much hope for any veracity to any claim to want to serve diverse communities.
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caroline's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 12:31

Not just Muslims, teetotalers, recovering alcoholics, people with hearing problems, or those who have not option but to attend meetings with their children, pubs don't work for a large proportion of the community

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 12:35

I agree. A noisy pub with myriad distractions is hardly the best venue to pay attention to something as serious as a new school. Sounds like the most effective way not to consult properly and drown out arguments. And of course exclude all that part of the population listed by Tracy and Caroline

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 13:41

I have no knowledge of Rivendale's situation but in respect to The Michaela Community School, the decision to hold the meeting in the Sun & Dove Public House which is in a deprived area just around the corner from Kings College and well within the catchment area of the proposed site for the school, is because the Landlord, Mark Dodds, who is well known in the area as a community leader is also one of the parents on the steering committee of the school.

It was held outside in the beer garden.

And the only distraction came from a small group intent on disrupting the open forum in truth Alan. Preventing many of the parents wishing to ask questions about the school from doing so - by literally shouting them down.

I'm sure you don't protest in this manner and would be probably be more reasoned as some of the protesters outside the pub who were handing out leaflets and putting forward their points to residents as they entered were.

As clearly that was no way to ensure an open consultation.

And holding any open meeting in a pub's events room or beer garden, I would argue is as open as doing it in a church hall (religious) or leisure centre (sale of alcohol permitted).

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:06

Well holding a consultation in the pub owned by someone on the steering committee smacks of a closed shop to to me, so I'm not surprised that the dissenting voices probably doubled their efforts to be heard. It's an emotive subject, Paul, so proper planning and thought would have dictated the meeting should have been held somewhere more "impartial". So no I can't agree with you that holding this meeting in the business place of a steering committee member was the best decision. In fact, it makes me wonder what other decisions they are making that are going to look self-interested. A Community hall would be a better idea. With or without alcohol.

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 21:55

OK Now I'm truly clear of your position. Open consultation for you just means getting your point across at the expense of others. Fine.

See it's that kind of thinking which means people can't take you seriously.

You ignored the fact he is a parent and a community leader and is well known, ignored the fact that pubs are often the centre of communities and open to the public, easily found, easily accessible and most importantly free.

To suggest that this was a closed shop (a Union reference by the way) is ludicrous.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 22:02

Pubs - especially those owned by a steering committee member - does not work for a lot of people, as Caroline first stated at the start of this thread. I think it sounds as if Michaela shot itself in the foot by planning the meeting in the pub - they would have avoided precisely this type of criticism if they had held the meeting somewhere genuinely impartial and accessible. As it is, it looks as if they tried to control and influence the meeting on safe ground. And being well known doesn't mean being well loved, I'm afraid.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/06/2011 - 10:34

The problem with holding the meeting in a pub is that anyone entering feels obliged to purchase a drink. This holds true whether one is a regular pub goer, someone who never drinks or who has religious reasons for not drinking. Much better to hold the meeting at a venue such as a community hall and either serve no refreshments or just offer tea/coffe/biscuits for free. And there are still women who feel uncomfortable about entering an unknown pub on their own.

Martin Francis's picture
Wed, 21/09/2011 - 17:06

Hi Tracy, I was the gent in the audience raising the issue of Rivendale having its eye on Brent. We have heard no more since but it remains a possibility due to the school places shortage locally and Brent's decision to expand primary schools - some up to five forms of entry. I am concerned that parents will be attracted to smaller primary schools if free school providers promise them. A matter of the local authority shooting itself in the foot. We had a fringe meeting on free schools at the Green Party Conference in Sheffield earlier this month which I chaired. You can see a video of it here:

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