Closure of school ‘could be racist’

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A COUNCIL could be forced to rethink plans to close a failing inner-city secondary school after councillors claimed the decision might be “institutionally racist”.

Hull Council is consulting over plans to close Endeavour High, a school that was supposed to herald a new start for education in the city when it opened nearly 10 years ago, but which instead has been beset by problems and is judged to be failing by education watchdog Ofsted.

Now four opposition Labour councillors at the Liberal Democrat-led authority have decided to “call in” the closure decision, referring it to a key council committee which has the power to endorse it, refer it back to the authority’s cabinet, or put the matter to the full council.

As well as citing the need to “take full account of human rights”, the councillors say the decision could constitute institutional racism, as defined by Sir William Macpherson in his inquiry into the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London in 1993.

The call-in request, signed by councillors Daren Hale, Colin Inglis, Martin Mancey and Rilba Jones, quotes Sir William when referring to a council report which recommended closure.

It said: “Nowhere in the report is there any consideration whatsoever of the ethnic composition of the school or the impact on the BME (black, minority ethnic) community and as such could potentially be seen as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin’.”

Coun Mancey said not enough consideration had been given to what schools the Endeavour children could attend should it close in August 2012.

He added: “The school at the moment serves a significant immigrant population – the Polish and other Eastern European community, and serves as a focal point for that community.

“If you look at the performance of the school as it stands at the moment, is it surprising the performance perhaps doesn’t match some of the other schools in the city if there’s a significant element where English is not the first language?

“When making a decision about the future of that school there should have been consideration of how we are going to meet the needs of that community in terms of alternative provision. It’s an issue that needs proper and full consideration and we don’t think it has been given proper consideration.”

The report, A Case For Closure, by Judith Harwood, the council’s head of learning, participation and skills, said Endeavour is no longer financially viable because of rapidly falling pupil numbers.

The £15m school, which opened in purpose built premises in Beverley Road in September 2001, is £500,000 in debt and has no prospect of paying it off, the report said.

Only 642 children attend the 1,200 capacity school and only 37 parents named it as their first choice for the new academic year starting in September – far short of the 240 places that will be available. About 30 per cent of the current Year Seven pupils did not name the school as their first choice.

A total of 60.7 per cent of the pupils on roll are white British, while 37.5 per cent are from black or ethnic minorities. More than one in five speak English as a second language.

The school has been in special measures in all but two academic years since 2004.

The council’s overview and scrutiny management committee will consider the call-in request next Friday. Council leader Carl Minns and Christine Randall, the portfolio holder for education and children’s services, were both unavailable for comment.