SOMETIMES you’ve got to rub your eyes, pinch yourself and wonder morosely at the cynicism of some people.
Last year Everton’s highly successful, award-winning charity announced plans to open a free school in Liverpool aimed at helping young people who have struggled with mainstream education and are at risk of exclusion.
The plan, spear-headed by Everton In The Community’s inspirational chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, aims to take advantage of a pot of Government money set aside by education secretary Michael Gove, and use it for the benefit of people in Merseyside.
Early on in the process I sat with Denise and listened as she outlined her idea for a unique educational venture with the community at its very heart, appreciating her ambition and vision.
It seemed the type of scheme Evertonians would be proud to see their club driving forward.
“We conducted a rigorous appraisal of the project ahead of making the decision to express our interest and absolutely considered it the right thing to do,” said Robert Elstone last year.
“We are proud to be associated with a project that will make a difference to the lives of many in our local community.
“Everton is a football club built on a history of being brave and innovative, leading groundbreaking initiatives both on and off the football field.
“We have played a huge part in the Liverpool and Merseyside community for over 100 years and this latest move demonstrates our desire to continue to make a difference where it counts.”
Yet it would seem there are naysayers already queuing up to criticise the plan.
A group has formed called Evertonians Against a Free School, which claims the venture could leave the club’s reputation “indelibly tarnished and compromised” should it fail.
In an open letter to Bill Kenwright, they claim the school, which will initially be based at Liverpool Community College Learning Exchange before moving to permanent premises, would take up to £2 million from maintained schools in Liverpool over the next three years in pupil-based funding, and could put at risk the city’s existing pupil referral units and special schools.
It also called into question the school’s preparedness for opening in September and its use of the Manchester-based Place Group as project managers. Opponents claim its involvement in overseeing scores of applications for academies and free schools all over the country, suggested the project was an “ideological attempt to introduce the profit motive into education”.
That’s where I just can’t fathom the logic.
The only ideology I have ever sensed from Everton about this scheme has been to improve the lives of local people, and push the boundaries of their globally renowned charity, making it bigger and better. It strikes me as a completely apolitical venture, which doesn’t deserve to be dragged into party politics and degraded simply because the money is coming from the Tories.
The letter goes on to call it a ‘reckless gamble’, with ‘untried and untested staff (not even appointed yet)’.
It conveniently ignores that the school will be creating local jobs in this ongoing recession, while also helping children who may otherwise be fit for nothing more than the dole queue to find work and fulfilment.
It seems an overly negative knee-jerk reaction to suggest the school will have a catastrophic effect on other special schools in the city, particularly as initially only 120 pupils will be catered for in a city with a population of 400,000.
You can make your own mind up about the benefits by taking part in an online consultation at www.evertonfreeschool.com.
The school last week launched a recruitment drive to fill positions and for more information about the roles or to apply, email HRdepartment@evertonfc.com.