NB: This post is by Tim Hewish, Steve’s researcher.
I was delighted to learn that the Durand Academy has been successful in its request to set up a free boarding school for acutely underprivileged children in Stockwell, South London.
When Steve and I visited back in January, we were greatly encouraged by the transformational work all the teachers and staff were doing at Durand. Their passion was rooted in traditional principles of hard work, meritocracy and discipline. They were not afraid to simply teach, unencumbered from red tape and a burdensome and constricting national curriculum.
Although their journey has been far from smooth, courtesy of vested interests in the educational status quo that provides a substandard schooling, we are encouraged that Durand has been able to triumph against such resistance. One only has to witness the confrontation Toby Young has had to face with his own Free School to highlight how reactionary and out-dated Left-wing thinking is failing poorer students.
What we now have is a joint venture between the Government and the Durand Academy for the boarding school with the Department of Education committing up to £17.34 million over four years to contribute towards the capital costs while Durand investing the rest.
It is a testament to Michael Gove’s radical vision for school provision free from local authority control, parent-led, and needs-based.
Under the proposals, the children will leave Durand Primary School, at the age of 13, and board for four nights a week, free of charge to the parents. The first pupils will start to arrive from September 2012.
It will provide 375 boarding places for years 9 – 11, a proposed 250 places for post-16 pupils and they will be fed from the existing Durand Primary school, where almost half receive Free School Meals and more than 95 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Again, it shows how untrue is the utterance that Academies are white middle class ivory towers of elitism.
Even sections of New Labour are starting to get it. In certain quarters, the Free School idea is gaining traction and may well present itself as the best way to break the Left’s dominance of education. Just look at Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former director of strategy, who is setting up a Free School in East London with Lord Adonis’s backing.
The Left once thought the comprehensive system would create equality, but instead many of them have left children being taught to the lowest common denominator. What Academies provide is greater choice matched with the freedom for parents and teachers to decide what works best for pupils.
We wish the Durand Academy the very best of success with its project.