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Free school for ‘black community’ gets turned down again

DOWN FOR THE CAUSE: Mum Patricia Johnston is firmly behind the plans for Diaspora High School

A PARENT has branded Department for Education (DfE) officials as ‘racist’ after they reportedly turned down an application for a free school in south London because “it is for the black community.”

Mother-of-six Patricia Johnston has been supporting the proposed Diaspora High School in Lewisham, which plans to rescue teenagers from gang culture through initiatives such as guaranteed work experience for all school leavers.

But despite backing from Cambridge University and 50 local employers, it was once again rejected by the DfE. The school was proposed by teachers Kay Johnston and Anne Broni who insist that they did not set out to create a school exclusively for black children. 

Kay Johnston explained: “Our aim was to have a school for boys. I was just concerned that many young men were leaving without any skills to get them into work.  The curriculum was not practical, not meeting their needs and their attendance was poor.”

With the help of Patricia Johnston, an application for a judicial review of the decision to reject the school was made in 2013, but was called off after the DfE promised to conduct talks with the organisers about the proposed school.

SUPPORT

Despite support from a successful global education company, they were told that their financial planning was “of limited quality”.

Kay said she was incensed by a comment in the refusal notes which read: “I recommend that this school not be approved. This is not a school for the local community. It is for the black community. The proposers are Afro Caribbean and all their mentors are black.”

She insists that the DfE had no information about who their mentors would be.

Patricia described the response as “pure and simple racism”.

In defending the DfE’s decision, a spokesperson said: “To be successful, all free school applicants must demonstrate strong leadership, a convincing educational plan and a capacity for effective financial planning and controls. The Diaspora proposal did not meet the high bar required for approval.”

Kay said: “Since the coalition started the Free Schools initiative, many that are built on Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith have been approved.  What is so threatening to those people in power, about a school that is run by black women that has predominantly, but not exclusively, black children?”  

She has written to David Cameron and education minister Michael Gove demanding a meeting to discuss the refusal.

“We may not have the right connections to those in power, we are not contributors – major or otherwise to any political party’s purse, but we are not stupid. We are passionate, we are educated, we too are important.” 

The DfE spokesperson said further: “It is absurd to suggest that the free school programme in any way discriminates against people from a minority ethnic background. Many free schools overwhelmingly serve BME children, with 40 per cent of pupils in all mainstream free schools coming from minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to 26 per cent in mainstream state schools.”

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