Segregation and Blue Coat School

6th July 2001 at 01:00
For months, The TES has waged a relentless campaign against the Government's plans to increase the number of church schools. While I can accept that this policy does not meet with universal approval, I was deeply saddened by the blatant attempt to exploit Oldham's recent racial tensions as a means of furthering this campaign.

A "tabloid" headline on page one (TES, June 22) was followed by an attempt to place one of the problems - racial segregation - literally at the Blue Coat School's gates. On pages 28 and 29 the pressure was maintained by the gratuitous use of a photograph of police in riot gear.

What is the truth? Blue Coat School has favoured Anglican applicants for nearly 200 years. Over the past 30 years or so, the demand for places has significantly outstripped the standard number by more than two applicants to each place, hence the need for the formula about church attendance.

Major changes to that formula, to reflect the town's ethnic mix, would intensify the problem and leave many Anglicans in the Manchester diocese, which embraces Tameside and Rochdale, without their entitlement.

We do not preclude Muslims as you suggest. At post-16, where there is less pressure for places, we operate an open sixth-form policy. Despite our best efforts, very few British Asian students have chosen to join us.

The school is not surrounded by playing fields, we have to walk to council-owned facilities for all sports. We are the town's only secondary school without a sports hall. Our pupils are drawn from a wide range of districts, many of which are urban priority or areas of deprivation. If being supportive of the school's ethos is a social indicator then so be it. Only one secondary school in Oldham has more statemented students.

Your readers should also know that through our beacon initiative, we are working closely with neighbouring primaries and their varied intakes. We are in a diverse cluster of secondary and special schools as part of Excellence in Cities. Recently, we have widened our coverage of racial issues, inviting ethnic-minority students into our Year 10 PSHE lessons. Lately, the school has played host to a conference addressed by Oldham's multi-cultural adviser. Like all schools in the town, we are seeking to widen the dialogue between the different communities.

Much remains to be done, preferably away from the glare of such unhelpful publicity.

KW Pleasant Headteacher The Blue Coat School Egerton Street, Oldham

The editor writes: We believe that the issue of segregated schools is a matter for serious debate. The Blue Coat School's admissions policy is at odds with the Church of England's policy nationally and locally.

We would argue that a school for which a Christian vicar's letter is a prerequisite for entry does preclude Muslims.

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