Thursday, September 08, 2005

New term, new school

The new term begins
School restarted on Tuesday. For me, that meant a visit to both Church Aided Primary schools in the Parish, to say 'Hello' to the head teachers and catch up on the news.

This time last year, St Monica's Primary School moved to a new building, as Diocese, the County and the Welsh Assembly between them could ot come up with the necessary funds to renovate a 120 year old building. Falling enrolment numbers everywhere in Cardiff are leading to school closures to rationalise the available resources, except, it appears where Church schools are concerned. Rather than spend money on renovation, a plan was hatched to re-locate St Monica's in the surplus Infants' School building of Gladstone Primary, some 100 yards from St Michael's Church in our Parish. Gladstonians were not pleased about this and resisted the initiative, but in the end bowed ungraciously to the inevitable. The move was a great success, and now just under a hundred students, plus staff are happily beavering away in their bright new accommodation.

New school in old buildings
Part of the deal done to secure a new home for an old school was the sale of the old buildings. Ten months of waiting resulted in the purchase of the site by Cardiff's Muslim Educational Trust, for a private 'faith-based' school for Muslim children. Both Church schools have had Muslim children for many years, and are proud to be entrusted with their education. Everybody asks: 'does this mean you're going to lose your Muslim kids?' Answer - quite unlikley. The Muslim school will address educational needs of pupils from linguistic and cultural backgrounds who will benefit from not being obliged to attend another kind of school. When I worked in Geneva there were several campuses of the International School - very multicultural and liberal. But there were also private schools modelled on an English Primary school for newcomers, and Catholic schools catering for English/French bi-lingual learning. Some politicians and educationalist suspect faith based schools and private education, and would prefer a 'one size fits all' approach to learning.
It's an abstract notion of 'equality'. What works best is equal attention being given and justice done to the different kinds of educational need. It's demanding and costly, but kids are worth it.

The school sale released funds, not only to pay for St Monica's new building, but to pay for it to be re-roofed during the summer vacation. In the six weeks since the handover, the new Muslim school has also been re-roofed and re-windowed. This has attracted the usual neighbourhood racist style comment: 'Why is that being done for them, when it could not be done for us? The truth is that the Muslim school is being kick-started by funding from wealthy patrons, not the state. And so history repeats itself. A hundred and twenty years ago, Caridf's rich industrialists also did what the state would not do. They invested in constructing schools and new community facilities with money generated from coal and steel production. Our educational provision would not be so varied and excellent if it were not for such good-will and interest, yesteryear or today.
What's lovely is to witness the mutual appreciation and support being shown by the staffs of the two faith schools towards each other. I hope the educational authorities and politicians are watching closely.

Schooling the displaced
Our other Church school, Tredegarville (named after the titled industrialist who gave the land for both St James' church and school) is full to bursting again. The new intake brings numbers back up to 200. It's in an area designated for urban renewal (in other words it's a deprived area)
which soaks up newly arrived or re-located economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Child numbers can fluctuate by a couple of dozen when the cases of the latter are processed and families are moved on or expelled. It's the kids who suffer most from the insecurity, and they are lovingly and supportively dealt with by the staff. The most recent influx is of displaced Roma people from the Czech Republic. Before that was from war-torn parts of Africa - kids hiding under desks when a plane flew low or there was a loud bang. Over decades on its cramped site surrounded by tall buildings, the school has seen it all, and it thrives. Last year it had a first class inspection report, which would be the envy of some establishments in leafy suburbs. It's impossible not to feel proud of what is constantly being achieved.

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