Because of the way school catchment areas had been set historically, he explains, Burnley's secondary schools had been either overwhelmingly white or overwhelmingly black. The white schools got good results and were oversubscribed, and the minority ethnic schools got poor ones. All this is changing, partly as a result of a report published last summer on the reasons for the disturbances.
"The county council is completely reorganising the schools, including the catchment areas, so there is a better mix of pupils," says Labour councillor Mark Townsend. "Five new schools have just opened and we've got rid of all the old ones so the kids now have the chance to grow up together"
I don't know the area at all well. But one of the new schools, Hameldon Community College, doesn't exactly seem to exude that glorious rainbow ethos. It has 1,700 pupils and was created by merging Ivy Bank High (41% in the 2001 tables) with Habergham High School (66%) to produce a school with "more than 40%" A/C passes. You'd rather have hoped for 53% even if there was no improvement.
Alas, the school's already in special measures - quite an achievement considering it's only been open eighteen months. A second Burnley 'superschool', the wonderfully named Unity College, is also in special measures - that's two out of five schools.
Two youths are being questioned after a 15-year-old boy was attacked at his school with a baseball bat. The teenager was in the grounds of Hameldon Community College in Burnley, Lancashire, when he was set upon during the lunch break on Friday. The boy was taken to hospital with head injuries and later discharged. A second pupil, aged 15, who suffered a fit was also treated in hospital ... A spokesman for Lancashire Police said: "Police are continuing to investigate the incident, which is being seen as an isolated incident involving a small number of people." The injured pupil is Asian, but police said there was "no suggestion" the attack was racially-motivated.
Following this incident school attendance dropped to 50%, then 25%. The comments on the stories are worth a look. Admittedly it was coming up to Christmas - this may have tipped the scales on keeping pupils away. Police have since decided the incident WAS racially-motivated - no word on whether it's still 'isolated' or 'random'.
Schools usually fail for a toxic cocktail of reasons. To start with, 1,700 pupils is far too many for any school - especially one with no sixth form. How can the teachers know all the kids, to start with ? And, just as any country with 'Democratic' in its name is a dictatorship, so the word 'Community' in any institution should set alarm bells ringing. You know at once that whatever you'll find in the area, it'll certainly be uncontaminated by community. 1,700 pupils - and precisely 60 parents turned up to the two meetings held by the school to reassure them. Whether the parents couldn't be bothered, or whether they thought any reassurances would be worthless platitudes, who can tell - either way it's not good. The school is rated a disaster by the most important users - the parents.
On Monday it was revealed that the school was a first-choice option for fewer than 100 youngsters across the borough when Year Six parents were asked to pick at least three establishments where they would like to send their child for secondary education. Burnley Council leader Gordon Birtwistle said before Hameldon was created, Ivy Bank and Habergham High Schools could expect to attract about 600 such applications each.
From 1200 first choice applications to 100. The chief exec of any PLC whose share price fell like that could expect to clear his desk (admittedly he'd leave with a million or two and a huge pension).
It would be premature to assume that the council's decision to merge one mainly white school with a mainly-Asian one in the interests of "community cohesion" is the sole cause of the school's troubles. I wonder how the magnificently named Shuttleworth College (named after Ken I trust), Sir John Thursby and Blessed Trinity are getting on. I'll lay a pound to a pinch of s***, as they say in the Black Country, that the Catholic school has the best results.
But the failure of two out of five doesn't bode terribly well. Never mind, it's only a few kids' education and it's in a noble cause. If they don't get educated there are plenty of educated East Europeans. Can't make an integrated rainbow omelette without breaking a few lives.