Publicly funded private school creates "poor kids' playground" for kids whose parents wouldn't contribute to new playground equipment

Wednesdbury Oak Academy in the West Midlands is an "academy school," similar to a US charter school — a publicly funded, privately operated school, which, theory goes, is able to "experiment" with new educational techniques, by deviating from the standard curriculum, rejecting students on the basis of selection criteria, and hiring teachers without formal qualifications.

The school solicited £6 contributions from parents to contribute to the cost of new playground apparatus. Contributions from the parents of 80 children out of the 450 who attend the school sent in money. When the school purchased the new equipment, the playground was segregated, with the children whose parents contributed the £6 able to play anywhere, but the remaining majority of children were barred from playing in the area with the new equipment.

The school has a higher-than-average number of children who attract the "pupil premium," paid to schools by the government based on the number of very poor children who attend.

The head teacher of the school, Maria Bull, blamed the segregation on a "parent council initiative" and expressed outrage at the negative comments she'd received since the news of the income-based playground segregation broke. She likened the new equipment to after-school clubs, which are optional and require a cash payment by pupils' families to use.

Academy schools have been controversial since their launch, with scandals ranging from exorbitant salaries being paid to administrations, the teaching of "young Earth creationism" at public expense, unqualified and untrained teachers teaching upper-level mathematics. Academy schools are also able to deny parents the customary degree of oversight into their administration, and hire nonunionised teachers. In addition, the selective nature of academy schools means that they can cream off all the children in the area who have no identified learning or behavioural difficulties, leaving the state schools with a student body who are disproportionately struggling, and forcing parents of children entering the system to choose between a state school where virtually all the students have some form of difficulty, or an opaque, privately owned academy school that is free to hire unqualified teachers at sub-par wages.

The children at Wednesbury Oak Academy range from 3 to 11 years old.

The Labour MP for West Bromwich West, Adrian Bailey, blamed government cuts that had left schools in the area "facing financial crisis".

He said: "Schools should not be put in a position where they are forced to approach parents for contributions for equipment that would usually be paid for using the school's mainstream budget.

"Inevitably, this results in some parents being unable to contribute. This is especially true in a lower income area like Sandwell, leading to a culture of social division and resentment, impacting on the ability of pupils to learn.

"All children should have equal access to education, including to equipment and facilities. This case is just one example of the consequences of government cuts to school funding."

The school's headteacher, Maria Bull, defended the scheme, saying none of the parents were unable to afford the £6 contribution. According to the school's Ofsted report, which grades it as outstanding, "a far higher proportion of pupils than average attract the pupil premium", which is paid for pupils eligible for free school meals and those in the care of the local authority.

West Midlands school accused of segregating children in playground [Kevin Rawlinson/The Guardian]

(via Naked Capitalism)