Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

School Breaks Down Barriers; Claims by Education Secretary Michael Gove That There Is a "Berlin Wall" between State and Private Schools Are Disputed by One North East Head, Who Knows Both Sectors Well. PATRICK JOSEPH Joseph Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

School Breaks Down Barriers; Claims by Education Secretary Michael Gove That There Is a "Berlin Wall" between State and Private Schools Are Disputed by One North East Head, Who Knows Both Sectors Well. PATRICK JOSEPH Joseph Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK JOSEPH

AGRAND piano plays in the atrium, military-style cadets march on parade and pupils take part in rugby matches and choral singing.

These are not scenes from a private school, but a state-run academy in one of the most deprived areas in the country.

"If there is a wall, it's not a Berlin Wall," says Andrew Day, executive director of the Northumberland Church of England Academy, referring to recent comments from Education Secretary Michael Gove about there being such a divide between state and private school sectors in the UK.

"I lived in Berlin during the 1980s and on the one side you had a thriving capitalist economy and on the other derelict and pock-marked buildings and mounds of rubble. That is definitely not a description of the differences between the state and independent sectors in this country.

"It is also completely wrong to say that state schools do not provide a moral education for their pupils. Incorporated into everything we do is explaining the difference between right and wrong."

Mr Gove's "Berlin Wall" comments were followed by remarks by Richard Walden, chair of the Independent Schools Association, who claimed that state schools do not provide children with a more rounded and enriching education to give them a "moral compass" has done little to support this aim.

While he disagrees strongly with Mr Walden's claims, Mr Day -whose school is the biggest 2-19 academy in the country, with campuses in Ashington, Lynemouth and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea -does believe that one of the lessons the state sector can learn from independent schools is the importance of investing in extra-curricular activities.

Since his arrival the academy has become the first in Northumberland to establish a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) unit, and the cadets were recently inspected by the head of the army in the North East Brigadier Greville Bibby as part of the Academy's second Founders and Benefactors' Day celebrations.

But the CCF is part of a much wider programme of activities on offer, many often associated with the independent sector such as rugby, where the school has linked up with the Newcastle Falcons, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and choral singing, with pupils now sitting external singing exams for the first time. There is also archery, steel bands, art, animation and much more.

A former independent school teacher and housemaster himself, Mr Day's wife Yvette also happens to be the head of one of the North's most historic independent schools - The Chorister School in Durham, which counts former Prime Minister Tony Blair among its ex-pupils. It may be just 35 miles away but it's a long way economically from the Turn to Page 20 Ashington academy where 50% of its 2,500 pupils are eligible for free school meals.

The two schools have now linked up in a musical partnership and will perform together at the Brinkburn Music Festival later this year. …

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