Katie Price to found free school for special needs children

The former glamour model will work with other local parents to open a school for the visually impaired.

News about Katie Price tends to focus on her latest love interest, autobiography, or reality TV show. Yet the glamour model turned businesswoman’s latest venture is somewhat different: she is founding a free school to provide for children like her son Harvey, who has special educational needs.

Harvey, 10, has autism, Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes easy weight gain) and septo-optic dysplasia, which means he has visual impairments.

Price told the Guardian:

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to be starting a school. But we're planning to open in September 2013, on a site in Sevenoaks in Kent. It's going to be called the Visually Impaired Special Needs academy – it will have places for at least 20 children initially, but we hope to go up to 90 in time. And once we've got it off the ground, we hope to open more schools just like it: because we haven't got enough special needs schools in Britain, and we have to get them so that children like Harvey have the best chance in life.

The decision was prompted by the closure of the school Harvey currently attends, Dorton House in Sevenoaks, which is run by the Royal London Society for Blind People.

Price is working with her mother, Amy Price, and a group of five or six other parents affected by the school closure. They should hear this month whether their bid will be approved.

Until now, she has been quiet about her involvement for fear it would jeopardise the bid, but now plans to use her celebrity status to help raise funds and awareness. In a development that is perhaps unsurprising given that Price spends much of her life in front of a camera, I've been told that the founding of the school will feature in her reality show.
 

Katie Price, launching her magazine "Katie". September 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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There are two sides to the Muslim segregation story

White families must also be prepared to have Muslim neighbours. 

Dame Louise Casey finally published her review on social integration in Britain. Although it mentions all communities, there is a clear focus on Muslim communities. However, the issues she raises - religious conservatism, segregation in some areas and Muslim women experiencing inequalities -  are not new. In this case, they have been placed in one report and discussed in the context of hindering integration. If we are truly committed to addressing these issues, though, we have a duty of care to discuss the findings with nuance, not take them out of context, as some tabloids have already done.

The review, for example, highlights that in some areas Muslims make up 85 per cent of the local population. This should not be interpreted to mean that Muslims are choosing to isolate themselves and not integrate. For a start, the review makes it clear that there are also certain areas in Britain that are predominantly Sikh, Hindu or Jewish.

Secondly, when migrants arrive in the UK, it is not unreasonable for them to gravitate towards people from similar cultural and faith backgrounds.  Later, they may choose to remain in these same areas due to convenience, such as being able to buy their own food, accessing their place of worship or being near elderly relatives.

However, very little, if any, attention is given to the role played by white families in creating segregated communities. These families moved out of such areas after the arrival of ethnic minorities. This isn't necessarily due to racism, but because such families are able to afford to move up the housing ladder. And when they do move, perhaps they feel more comfortable living with people of a similar background to themselves. Again, this is understandable, but it highlights that segregation is a two-way street. Such a phenomenon cannot be prevented or reversed unless white families are also willing to have Muslim neighbours. Is the government also prepared to have these difficult conversations?

Casey also mentions inequalities that are holding some Muslim women back, inequalities driven by misogyny, cultural abuses, not being able to speak English and the high numbers of Muslim women who are economically inactive. It’s true that the English language is a strong enabler of integration. It can help women engage better with their children, have access to services and the jobs market, and be better informed about their rights.

Nevertheless, we should remember that first-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who could not speak English, have proved perfectly able to bring up children now employed in a vast range of professions including politics, medicine, and the law. The cultural abuses mentioned in the review such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation, are already being tackled by government. It would be more valuable to see the government challenge the hate crimes and discrimination regularly faced by Muslim women when trying to access public services and the jobs market. 

The review recommends an "Oath of Integration with British Values and Society" for immigrants on arrival. This raises the perennial question of what "British Values" are. The Casey review uses the list from the government’s counter-extremism strategy. In reality, the vast majority of individuals, regardless of faith or ethnic background, would agree to sign up to them.  The key challenge for any integration strategy is to persuade all groups to practice these values every day, rather than just getting immigrants to read them out once. 

Shaista Gohir is the chair of Muslim Women's Network UK, and Sophie Garner is the general secretary and a barrister.