Page 10, 19th December 2003

19th December 2003
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Page 10, 19th December 2003 — How do they do it?
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How do they do it?

Education Philippa Toomey

Te Schools Organise

on Committee approved two new 'faith" schools the other week —not Catholic. not Anglican, but Jewish. For many years there has been a Jewish community in Hackney, some Orthodox, some ultra-Orthodox and their schools have the best irsults in the Borough. They have, in the past, had to pay for that education, despite a generous number of scholarships it has been a burden on parents and their community, and therefore in 2005 or thereabouts, (depending on builders and other hazards) there will be two more schools in the voluntary-aided sector.

We seem to be inline for a vast number of new schools, according to anew deal for inner London, announced a couple of weeks ago. We already have Mossbourne, a City Academy which will open in September next year, with an intake of 200, which will gradually build up over the years to nearly I ,000 pupils. It is on the site of Hackney Downs School, once a renowned grammar school which produced, among others. Lord Goodman, Harold Pinter and Steven Berkoff. It was closed, with ignominy, after it failed its pupils and was considered impossible to improve. By that time on a good day there were 200 pupils attending, and they got GCSEs in Turkish which the school did not teach ...

Two more City Academies are planned, one on a vacated site and one on a site which still has pupils at work. City Academies are all the rage at the moment. depending in the first place on two million pounds being raised privately. They have quite a degree of independence from the Local Education Authority. and it seems to me that in encouraging them the LEA is working itself out of a job. The new academy has attracted a rush of applicants —.a new school always does. So where will the disappointed applicants go?

Most schools give preference to those who mark their school as their first choice. This presents parents with a moral dilemma. Should they apply to more than one school just in case, guiltily marking "first choice" on both applications? They do, in the same way that they claim Catholic practice. It's human nature, and we are required to forgive them. But it makes it pretty difficult if a place is offered to a child and a place has been accepted elsewhere. If you gamble and take more children on — On the grounds that sonic will fall out and they don't — you are stuck, because a school is not an airline which will cheerfully "bump" passengers off for another flight.

Last year we had an administrative problem which caused much grief. Eleven sets of parents had not the correct paperwork baptismal certificates, priests' references and the like — and did not get places. They appealed and managed to get their paperwork in order before the appeal. Our representative had no leg to stand on (in that they appeared to be regular Catholic applicants) and the independent panel was not best pleased, regarding it as a waste of their tune, which indeed it was.

There is no appeal against an appeal, so we got II extra pupils. They may stay with us, they may not. Transient pupils are a difficulty in the inner cities. They may arrive (if they are travellers or refugees) in the middle of a year or term, and leave again to move on to another home or job.

Lirow achievement is not confined to London. I was eading about a "new" school in Sheffield, which is an old school rejigged and rebuilt, which will have pupils from three to 16 years — a whole school life. The Guardian seemed impressed by improvements, saying that pupils getting five A-C GCSEs had risen by eight per cent. Splendid, until you read that this meant the proportion had gone up to 25 per cent, from the appalling to the deplorable. The national average is 52 per cent What is to be done?

Looking at the achievement of the Hackney Jewish schools, and to add to our chagrin, not many of their teachers are qualified, at the moment — how do they do it? Commitment, to my mind, is the answer, and a strung sense of a family life, It is also visible in other cultures in the achievement of children from India, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Many of our children come from happy families, but manydo not. A school cannot replace a family, but it can be a haven, a place where a child can work its way, through education, to a different world and a better future. It can be done.




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