The one free school that really deserves a chance

Chalk talk

Alas! The results have come through of a review into the Government's decision to turn down a plan for a free school in south London to wean young people away from gang culture, and it has still failed to get off the drawing board.

The plan, hatched by two south London teachers, was to guarantee all school leavers three months of work experience in their chosen trade or profession to stop them going straight from school out into the streets. A range of occupations had already come forward to lend their support for the school, which would have been known as Diaspora High school in Lewisham.

However, it still failed on the same grounds that the original assessors of the scheme found fault with – namely that it could not satisfy the requirement that it should be able to guarantee to fill 50 per cent of its places for the first two years. It had 110 parents signed up for the first year for 120 places, but did not have the figures for the second year, although potential applications were coming through at more than a trickle.

I am not going to set myself up as saying I know better than the civil servants at the Department for Education. What I would say, though, is that an enterprise offering this kind of help to disillusioned, disadvantaged youngsters, which tackles the root cause of some of the violence we have witnessed on our inner city streets, should be included in the second tranche of free school proposals to be announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove in the next month or so.

I have visited a number of the free schools set up this September and found that many of the parents who were sending their children to them had chosen them as an alternative to private education. I am not opposed to that, believing as I do that it is welcome that they have turned their backs on the private sector and returned to the state fold. What it does show, though, is that they have probably come from fairly affluent backgrounds, and the free school movement should be about more than just aiding that sector of society.

So come on, Mr Gove, let us see something akin to what Diaspora was offering potential young tearaways in your next tranche of proposals.

Many surveys of language provision in the UK have come to the conclusion that we are the language dunces of Europe because of the dearth of young people who take the subject up at school. Now there is a competition to prove that this moniker is wrong. Launched by Collins and Livemocha, it aims to find the most multilingual child and student in Britain. Last year's adult winner spoke a staggering 33 languages. www.collinsmost multilingual.com.

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