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Mum makes Gove back down over free school

LEGAL CLAIM: Patricia Johnson at home in March (Photo: Bart Chan

EDUCATION SECRETARY Michael Gove has changed the free school application process because of one mother’s legal claim that it was failing to offer equal opportunities.

Patricia Johnson, a parent of six from Crystal Palace, southeast London, accused the Department for Education (DfE) of neglecting its 2010 Equality Act duty when it rejected an application from Diaspora High School (DHS) to become a free school in Lewisham.

The DfE’s decision to amend the process comes after a court hearing in March, where the judge granted permission for Johnson to proceed with her judicial review against the Government department’s refusal of Diaspora's bid.

In response, the new decision made by Gove’s department to factor in the Equality Act was expressed in a witness statement on behalf of the government to the court, specifying the impact of Johnson’s claim.

"This claim has also prompted the Department to look again at its processes, as part of the existing process of continuing self-criticism and improvement”, it read.

“The adaptations…reflect how the claim has been a catalyst for further improvement and made the application process more efficient.”

Johnson was “relieved” about decision, which has ended legal proceedings.

She told The Voice: “I’m very pleased with the outcome.

“This is not a victory for myself, it’s for the school. In this era of equality, opportunity and diversity, it’s about Government departments taking a stand as well.

“To Michael Gove and his department, I’d say a cautious thank you. Thank you for looking at the guidelines and acknowledging there needed to be some kind of change.”

She added: “If Diaspora is successful, it will give young black boys an opportunity for them to start achieving academically, and in turn that will have a positive effect.”

Johnson’s solicitor Angela Jackman, of law firm Maxwell Gillott, said the new changes mean the DfE will have to identify whether free school applications are “associated with any of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act”.

Also, the adjustments require assessors to consider how their decision will impact on equality issues, particularly how it could benefit equality objectives.

The solicitor told The Voice: “The [DfE] statement spells out they made changes to the process purely because this claim has been brought, and they’ve improved the application process.

“Effectively, they’ve addressed a number of our concerns around how the DfE try to comply with this Equality Act duty of inclusion and equalities.

“They also specifically invited DHS to re-apply this September, and DHS is doing so.

“DHS have been trying for two years and more to get this school off the ground and get [government] funding.”

Jackman added: “I’m optimistic concerns about the previous application process have genuinely been taken onboard.

“For one parent to have the courage and determination to bring this claim – to achieve this result and change the process – it’s an excellent outcome.”

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