Harry Potter hater tries to work magic

23rd September 2011 at 01:00
A creationist is attempting to merge two segregated schools

It is among the hardest jobs in teaching: leading a new academy specifically set up to merge two segregated secondaries in Oldham, the Lancashire town that experienced some of the worst race riots of 2001.

And the position has just got a little more contentious. This term has seen the appointment of Nigel McQuoid, an avowed creationist, as the academy's third head in less than 18 months.

Mr McQuoid - who has taken temporary charge at Waterhead Academy - came into the public eye while running a number of academies for the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, which faced allegations over the teaching of creationism in science lessons. As the head of King's Academy in Middlesbrough in 2004, he famously banned Harry Potter books from the school library over fears that they could lead pupils into the world of the occult and witchcraft. He has also spoken of his personal views that the world was created in six days.

At Waterhead, Mr McQuoid has replaced David Yates, who stood down last month, who in turn replaced Jackie Nellis, who left the role of principal designate in August last year, just 10 months after her appointment.

The academy, sponsored by the neighbouring Oldham College, captured press attention in 2010 when it was announced that it would merge two of Oldham's most segregated schools: the predominantly white Counthill and the largely Asian Breeze Hill.

The move was part of a strategy to break down racial barriers in the town, which saw rioting in 2001. But one source close to the school told TES there were "massive concerns" about the "controversial beliefs" held by Mr McQuoid. "The major part of his job is to unite a largely white school and an Asian school," said the source.

However, Oldham College vice-principal Susannah Tyson denied that Mr McQuoid was using the school as a platform to voice his personal beliefs. "It's absolutely not happening," she said. "Waterhead Academy is a secular school and Nigel's personal beliefs aren't part of that."

Asked about concerns over the high turnover of headteachers in recent years, the vice-principal said it "wasn't our choice". "David Yates chose to leave. We were left to find a new principal and I think we've got the best possible outcome to that. Nigel has experience of merging schools and running academies."

The school is based on two campuses, Moorside and Roxbury, with the new academy building due to open in November next year. Ms Tyson insisted that the current integration programme, which includes pupils from both campuses taking classes together at least two days a week, was "going really well".

But it has become clear that not everyone is happy. Mr Yates's departure even prompted a Facebook campaign - "Bring Mr D Yates back to Waterhead Academy", which has so far attracted the support of over 600 pupils and parents.

The high turnover of headteachers - three in 18 months - has been met with criticism from the NUT. "I always warned that academies would lead to instability because sponsors are so independent and don't have ties and an anchor to the local authority. Unfortunately, I've been proven right," said Tony Harrison, NUT Oldham branch secretary.

Teachers at the school are also "extremely concerned" at the ongoing change, according to Mr Harrison. "They're thinking, 'Where is the academy going? It has no direction.' The academy has new teachers starting this week and they are finding themselves in a situation of instability. A number of staff are looking elsewhere (for jobs)."

Mr Yates blamed "personal and professional reasons" for his decision to leave. But whatever the details of his departure, there are clearly many people both in and out of the school who wish he had stayed. If only for a little stability.

OLDHAM RIOTS

In May 2001, the Glodwick area of Oldham was the scene of one of the worst race riots in the country. Taking place over two days, the riots involved 500 people and caused millions of pounds worth of damage.

The Cantle report, commissioned by the Home Office, found that the violence was fuelled by the segregation of white and Asian communities, and that many of the communities lived "parallel lives" and had never mixed with people from different backgrounds.

Waterhead Academy, which will move all its pupils into a single building in 2012, was created to help tackle the deep-rooted racial divisions in Oldham.

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