London mother challenges free school refusal decision

A woman can challenge the government's decision to reject plans for a free school aimed at steering black boys from gang culture, a court ruled.

Two African-Caribbean women teachers, Kay Johnston and Anne Broni, wanted to open Diaspora High School in Lewisham.

After the refusal, parent Patricia Johnson went to court claiming the education secretary failed to discharge his duty under the 2010 Equality Act.

Mr Justice Leggatt at the High Court said she had "an arguable case".

The case could be heard in April on the government's rejection of the plan, last July.

'Equality of opportunity'

In her application for judicial review Mrs Johnson, whose African-Caribbean boys are aged 15 and eight, claims there has been a breach of procedural fairness with regards to the south-east London school project.

The teachers wanted the school to promote "equality of opportunity for boys", especially black boys and boys from ethnic minority communities.

Among their plans, was a guarantee of three months' work experience to all school-leaving students to keep them away from the streets and gang culture.

More than 50 employers had signed up to act as mentors for the proposed free school, the court heard.

David Wolfe QC, barrister for Mrs Johnson, will argue at the judicial review hearing that Education Secretary Michael Gove failed to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity for both black pupils, and the African Caribbean women who want to set up the school.

The teachers were also not given an opportunity to respond to concerns about their project, he would say.

'Limited experience'

When the application for the school was rejected, Ghulam Abbas from the free schools group at the Department for Education (DfE), said it set out "a very ambitious offer for a high-quality academic, vocational and social education with a highly ambitious pupil outcome target".

But officials doubted the plan could be delivered saying the teachers, Ms Johnston and Ms Broni, had "limited experience of school leadership", he said.

Lawyers for the government argued that there is no merit in the challenge and there was a delay in launching it, and a fresh application could be made for the school.

A DfE spokesperson said: "Ministers approve only those applications that have the best chance of delivering the excellent education that every child deserves.

"Inevitably some groups are disappointed, but we must strive to ensure we are guaranteeing the best possible approach to each child's education and to taxpayers' money."

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