Lewisham Diaspora School will go ahead ‘no matter what’


Parents involved in the Lewisham Diaspora free school are applying for a judicial review, promising that ‘the school will go ahead no matter what’.

Following the third rejection of the all boys school’s application by the Department of Education in July 2012, plans are now underway for an appeal.

Kay Johnston, a teacher and a founding member of the school’s steering group said: “If the judicial review process being put forward by one of our parents is unsuccessful, I will look at other ways to go forward.”

Labelled ‘too ambitious’ by the Department of Education, it had been expected to open on September 2013 for boys aged 4 to 16, with a specific focus on developing professional careers.

The steering committee had hoped to provide mentors from different career paths for each of its’ pupils and have three months work experience organised for the year 11 year group.

The name ‘Diaspora’ was chosen to indicate a movement of people from ‘nursery to industry’.

Speaking to Eastlondonlines on November 14, Johnston said: ‘We want a school that can give its students credible career options, and provide a real alternative for young men who might otherwise associate with gangs. Myself and my colleague Anne Brodi came up with the idea from our years of teaching experience and talking to young men and parents about what they want from their local school.

“I have been working on this for seven years and there is a lot of support for the school. I don’t want to let parents down. One parent has sought legal advice and is applying for a judicial review.”

Sandra Smith, a local parent who has a son in primary school, told Eastlondonlines: “I would have liked my son to go this school. I think it is important a school like this exists because it allows for more parental involvement, has a holistic approach to education and is free.

At the time of the decision, Dr Michael Hrebeniak, a Cambridge admissions tutor and potential governor at Lewisham Diaspora School, wrote an open letter on September 26, addressing it to both Michael Gove and David Cameron.

In it he described the government’s ‘treatment’ of the school’s founders as ‘shabby’ and stated: “[Anne Brodi and Kay Johnston] are two women whose visionary qualities are matched by their pedagogical expertise, peerless attention to administrative detail and unbending dedication to their community.

“Their design of the Diaspora School is underpinned by the combined sum of 50 years of experience as transformative teachers in inner city schools.”

When asked how she felt about the government’s decision, Johnston said: “We just cannot understand why this has been rejected this time around.

“Faith schools, independent schools and companies who run academies have all been successful in getting funding and I have nothing against that. But parent-teacher groups are not as successful. Free schools are meant to allow parents and teachers a greater say in their local education provision. I feel that the Department of Education is not practising what it has preached.

“During the process of our application, 57 professionals have already said they want to be mentors; and we have 75% of our full capacity for the primary cohort signed up to by parents”.

A spokesperson from the Department of Education said: “The free school application process is very competitive. It is essential that plans are robust and that we are confident that the school will work.

“Unfortunately, that means that some applicants will be disappointed. These groups have all been provided with feedback on where their application could be strengthened should they wish to re-apply in future rounds.”

When asked which groups were successful at setting up free schools the spokesperson said:  “Of the 102 free schools approved to open from 2013 onwards, 43 are being set up by parent, community, charity and local groups and 59 are being set up by teachers, existing schools, and educational organisations.”

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