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.