Brian Clarke Academy

We think the admissions policy for the new Brian Clarke Academy is unfair.

The school will be fully funded by the taxpayer, but over half of its places will be closed to many local children.

It is designed in a way that will limit the number of children from central wards in Oldham. These are some of the most deprived wards in the country and currently families in those wards get the worst deal from Oldham’s school system. Despite living on its doorstep, they have to travel past the best-performing school in Oldham, Blue Coat, to schools that they often haven’t chosen, while children from better-off areas – many outside Oldham –  take advantage of its facilities.

The Cranmer Trust, which runs Blue Coat, has been given permission to open a new school in Oldham, the Brian Clarke Academy. This is being marketed as a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, inclusive school that will be a ‘microcosm’ of the town. However, if you look more closely at the admissions arrangements,  it is clear they are doing all they can, within the law, to avoid it reflecting the make-up of the town.

Half of the school’s places will be reserved for children of families that practice a faith. And half will be allocated using geographical zones. Taking these in turn:

Faith-based allocation

“What we want for our own children, we have to want for everyone else’s children” Estelle Morris, Oldham Education and Skills Commission launch event 2014

This is an arbitrary and grossly unfair way to determine a child’s life chances. There is a wealth of evidence that religious selection results in a greater proportion of children from better-off, middle-class backgrounds. The current Blue Coat school is third in a league table of schools that are least representative of their local area. To win places under this criteria, you need to have convinced a religious minister that you are practising a faith. Many, of course, are prepared to feign religious belief in order to get their children into such schools. But it is much harder to do this if you have less stable employment, are a single parent, or are experiencing hardship.

So, if you live in central Oldham, and you do ‘practise’ a faith, you can apply for a place under this criteria. However, the fact that you live on its doorstep counts for nothing here. Your application is on an equal footing with applications from more distant wards in Oldham (that already have better-performing schools of choice), or from areas outside Oldham altogether.

There is no insurance against a disappointingly small number of these places being allocated to children that live in central Oldham.

Allocation by geographical zones

Instead of giving priority to the children living closest to the school, the school is proposing to have 3 geographical zones (within 1 mile, between 2 and 3 miles, and between 2 and 3 miles from the school). A proportion of the places will be available to each as follows: Zone 1 – 45 places, Zone 2 – 50 places and Zone 3 – 25 places.

This effectively puts a limit on the number of places that could be allocated to those living in Oldham’s central wards. Instead of compensating for the existing inequality, this policy is deliberately engineering the mix to ensure that more children from less deprived areas win places. Of course, those children are equally deserving of a good education, but don’t they already have much better choices of school?

In justifying this approach, the Cranmer Trust has argued that ‘it is important that there are children from aspirational backgrounds in that mix’. By implication, the message to parents of children in those deprived areas is insulting; there’s a limit to the number of your children that we can allow to attend this school.

We think the children of Oldham deserve better.

We are arguing for:

  • no selection by faith in the new school
  • an admissions policy designed to suit the needs of the borough
  • the Council to play a role in advocating for the residents of the town, ensuring that existing inequalities are understood and addressed

If you agree and would like to join our campaign for fairer admissions to our local schools, please sign up today to add your voice.