|The Proposal for a City Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne by David Holloway|
Success, not failure
David Blunkett, the current Secretary of State for Education, is rightly concerned about poor standards in education. "We need," he says, "a dramatic increase in the number of successful schools in our cities."
Sadly there are too many failing schools in the Newcastle LEA. While the national average for 5 or more A-C's (the higher grades) at GCSE was in 2000 49%, in Newcastle it was 35%. Even Sheffield could average 41%. By contrast Emmanuel College Gateshead, a Christian City Technology College with two-thirds coming from "less advantaged areas", averaged 98%.
Emmanuel College recently had an OfSTED inspection. The report was published in March 2001. It makes remarkable reading, so glowing is the inspection team's account of the school. Interestingly, in answer to "what pleases parents most," they list the following (and in this order):
• the Christian beliefs and values.
• the way the college is led and managed.
• teaching is good and children make good progress.
• behaviour is good.
• the college's high expectations.
• children are helped to become mature and responsible.
But David Blunkett is aware that there is no simple solution.
"No single approach will solve all problems; but radical innovation in the creation of new schools is one option. City Academies will provide for this ... These academies will be publicly funded independent schools with private and voluntary sector sponsorship and management, tackling the problems of poor performance with greater freedom than currently available to maintained schools. Business, the churches, and the voluntary sector are all potential sponsors and partners for City Academies ... City Academies will also take account of the best lessons from the experience of City Technology Colleges and Charter Schools in the United States" (The prospectus for sponsors and other partners, 'City Academies - schools to make a difference').
In the light of this virtual invitation Paul Merton of Westgate Road Baptist Church, Clive Harding of Bethshan Pentecostal Church, Desmond Chong of the Chinese Church and I went to see the Newcastle Director of Education on 13 March 2001. The following is the formal summary of our position as presented to the Director in Newcastle and presented to the DfEE in London.
The general position, concerns and objectives of the sponsoring group
Representing churches of different and diverse denominations, we have formed ourselves into a non-denominational sponsoring group for a City Academy for Newcastle upon Tyne.
We believe that this will be a catalyst for growth and development for some of the most deprived members of our community. We have a particular concern for the inner West Riverside area of the city. We believe that a City Academy run to the standards and with the ethos we propose will bring renewed confidence to the area and in turn produce significant social and economic regeneration.
We are greatly encouraged to see that our concerns have now been articulated by the Prime Minister. At his recent Downing Street seminar with head teachers and other leading educationalists he expressed his desire to see a general improvement in secondary level education. Particularly he wishes to see, one, "greater diversity and choice" in education; two, a raising of standards of achievement among 11-14 year olds; three, vocational concerns and more flexibility in the national curriculum; and, four, greater managerial freedom with the employment of sponsors from the business world. We heartily concur with these "four points" which are endorsed by the Green Paper launched by David Blunkett.
We will see ourselves as a partner school in the family of schools of Newcastle upon Tyne ready to share what we are doing with others and equally desirous to learn from others.
The academy will offer a VIth Form with a realistic range of courses and so provide a pathway for those who want it and need it to higher education.
We have secured the co-operation of Mr Peter Vardy, a North East businessman, who has already expressed his commitment to education through his sponsorship of one of the most successful City Technology Colleges in the country, Emmanuel College Gateshead. While we expect our Academy to be different to Emmanuel, our Academy will have a similar Christian philosophy and we anticipate similar high academic standards from disadvantaged children. Mr Vardy will be involved in direct financial terms.
Mr Nigel Robson, the chairman of the Newcastle Committee, Chamber of Trade and Commerce, is a business professional who strongly supports our proposals. He believes that our project will play a significant part in helping towards the revitalization of the North East.
We propose that our specialism will be technology including ICT. We also envisage an imaginative language programme that could involve languages such as Cantonese and Latin as well as the modern European languages. We, of course, are concerned to see excellence in sport and also the creative arts, including music and film/radio/TV production skills.
We will, however, be concerned for all subjects, both in the arts and sciences. We will expect them all to be taught to the same high level.
We are a Christian group with a mainstream Christian ethos. We represent some of the largest churches in the city from a range of denominations Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal as well as the new and growing Chinese Church. But we are emphatically "non-denominational". We express our joint philosophy and what will be the philosophy of the academy as "Mere Christianity" - the title of a book by the famous writer and academic, C.S.Lewis.
We, however, are committed to a policy of "open" admissions. No tests will be applied to any parent who is willing to accept the ethos of the school. We, therefore, expect parents from other religious traditions and none to want to enrol their children. Such, we believe, will be the success and excellence of the school.
We will also hold a daily act of worship in accordance with the Education Reform Act 1988 and our religious education will, of course, involve the teaching of Christianity but also teaching about other world religions and non-religious philosophies.
We will be concerned to help children be clear on moral issues and we will expect pupils to finish their school careers being able clearly to distinguish right from wrong.
Our sex education will be premised on the view that two married parents committed together for life are in the best interests of the children while recognizing the need for the support of children from disrupted families and all the pressures that young people are under today.
Our ethos will seek to produce "good citizens". This will come through our training for public life. It will also come from our clear discipline but exercised in a secure and caring environment.
We see every human being as unique and of value in the sight of God from whatever background or environment. We will, therefore, seek to address the needs of every individual pupil. With those with potential or actual learning difficulties we will develop a strategy to raise their attainments.
We will seek to develop firm links with the business community in order to enhance the employment and life opportunities for our pupils.
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