Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harris Academy discriminating?

As a co- founder of Croydon Save Our Schools, the Croydon Guardian invited me to comment on a letter Anthony Miller, Norbury, had received from Harris Academy Crystal Palace. In short, he was told that his daughter Idayah had been refused admission, but curiously they cited both her wheelchair and her academic ability in the letter.

My comments:

"There has always been a concern that some Academies are operating quotas limiting numbers of children with Special Education Needs. I have to say that I am surprised Harris Academy is not DDA compliant. Does this mean a disabled teacher who uses a wheelchair cannot apply for a job? What if an existing able-bodied pupil was suddenly wheelchair bound?

"The reference to “performance” as well as "corridors" in this letter suggests that maybe there are other reasons, possibly educational attainment, behind this decision. Yet, Harris claim they admit pupils from all levels of educational ability.

"One wonders if Harris Academy would have sent out such a letter if the applicant were a teenage Dr Stephen Hawking."

As reported in the Croydon Guardian (online version)

On Friday, this story gathered pace and I was asked to speak on BBC Radio London's Drivetime show.

BBC RADIO LONDON link - from 1hr 22 mins

The following morning I was told the story even appeared in the Evening Standard.

Harris Academy has now apologised for the insensitive letter but have still not offered Idayah a place. However, as Mr Miller [well done to him for taking a stand] correctly points out, he cannot approach the local authority to communicate his disappointment, instead he has to appeal to the Department of Education.

Arguably, the Harris Academies do admit pupils from all academic abilities. At a public meeting at then Haling Manor school, now Harris Academy Purley, Lord Harris told the audience that their entrance examination allows the school to band the applicants into eight academic groupings. What happens next is unclear. We simply don't know how many pupils are selected from the different bands as this is not disclosed, hence, I described this as "covert selection".

I consulted Jane Eades at the Anti Academies Alliance about this case. She recalled a pupil who used a wheelchair at a school she used to teach at. A tailored evacuation plan was drawn up for the pupil in the event of a fire. Additionally, she observed that both the wheelchair user and his fellow classmates mutually benefited from his attendance: they developed a greater understanding of each others needs. What-is-more, those that helped the wheelchair user get around the school seemed to experience a positive effect to their self esteem. We all know this feeling: do a good deed and you feel good about yourself.

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