Chalk talk: Free school that plans to separate the boys from the girls

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The Independent Online

If at first you don't succeed... Regular Independent readers may recall that I championed the cause of a proposed free school in Lewisham, south London, which aimed to persuade local youth to stay away from gang culture.

The brainchild of two black teachers, Kay Johnston and Anne Broni, it sought to guarantee work-experience places for all school leavers. It received the backing of Cambridge University, which was prepared to run summer schools for the pupils to give them a glimpse of university life.

Yet the scheme was turned down not once but twice by the Department for Education, which led to claims from Dr Michael Hrebeniak, the Cambridge admissions tutor who also championed their cause, of racism and sexism in the decision-making process.

Undeterred, the two teachers are putting in a new application for the school, Diaspora High School, to be given the go-ahead later this month. They are also putting forward proposals for a second free school. to be called Diaspora Diamond School, which should open in 2015 (the original school could open in 2014) and be an all-through school encompassing both primary and secondary education.

One interesting feature of the second school is that it will only be co-educational in the reception year and sixth form – the rest of the pupils will be taught in single-sex classes. Kay Johnston said the decision had been taken as a result of parental demand – as parents had been asking for a similar facility at the first school. "This will allow us to address the learning styles of boys and girls," said Ms Johnston.

As with the first school, it is an interesting proposal and I wish them luck. One thing in their favour is that the DfE is planning to up the ante on free proposals – preparing during the next 12 months for three separate announcements of new schools rather than just the one that it has been having up until now.

Also, Labour has indicated that any schools in the pipeline which have been given the go-ahead before a possible change of government will be allowed to open as planned.