steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Blair's Babes - or, There's No Such Thing as a Free School Lunch

I'd heard rumours of the "free school" in Bristol, but Beyond Westminster this morning was an eye-opener. The school is situated in Southmead, one of Bristol's more deprived areas. To give you an idea, here's the junction of its main shopping streets:


Southmead's main claims to fame are as the subject of a controversial documentary about racism on white working class estates a couple of years ago, and as the spiritual home of Little Britain's Vicki Pollard.

So the free school will be a shot in arm for the area's children - and a healthier kind than has until now been on offer at the school gates - right? After all, says, Blair King, the chairman of Governors: "We want to make sure that every child... will have the best possible standard of education."

Wrong. Because, as the programme reveals, by "every child" he actually means "every middle-class child." Mr King is quite candid about it: "Our policy and our founding principle is that 80% of the children we take on will come from BS9, the communities of Henleaze, Stoke Bishop and Westbury-on-Trym." (For those of you who don't know Bristol, these are all affluent, middle-class areas - the latter two extremely so - a mile or two from Southmead.) I don't know when keeping oiks out of the best state schools first qualified as a "principle", let alone a founding one, but under Gove's regime it apparently does.

King doesn't want to be seen as entirely exclusive, of course. He adds (and it's wonderful to hear the rise in his voice as he gets to the end, here, as if he's astonished and enchanted by his own generosity) "We also want to be as inclusive as possible and have a comprehensive intake, and that includes taking people from less privileged backgrounds, from areas like Southmead. So the remaining 20% will come from, ideally, around the school." Coo, thanks, mister.

King is also open about how the free school got off the ground in the first place. Some of the prospective pupils' mothers happened to bump into the Tory MP (at that time also prospective) at a social gathering a couple of years ago, and they cooked it up between them. So, Southmead parents, that's all you need to do! Next time you find yourself sitting at the adjacent table to your local MP at a restaurant, or are invited to the same dinner party, why not bring up the idea of a free school for your children too? All it takes is a little initiative.
Tags: bristol, current affairs
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