A "too white" rural primary school has organised a sleepover to London – so the children "get a chance" to see people who are not white.
Payhembury Primary in Devon was criticised by Ofsted for being insufficiently ‘multicultural’. So the "too white" 68-pupil Church of England school is asking parents to pay for their children to make a two-day multiculturalism trip to a London school with a "wide mix of ethnic backgrounds".
The visit – described by one parent as patronising and bizarre – has been sold to parents as a way of boosting Payhembury’s Ofsted grade from good to the top rating of outstanding.
The school they are visiting, Smallberry Green in Isleworth, West London – where three-quarters of the 410 pupils are from ethnic minorities – achieved the same good Ofsted rating.
Explaining the motivation for the trip, Payhembury headteacher Penny Hammett told parents in a letter: ‘The purpose of this trip is to build up a relationship with a school in a very different community to ours.
'This will enable our children to gain a better understanding of multicultural Britain, which was identified in our last Ofsted as being an area for development.
‘Through our topics, visitors and discussions we have been developing multicultural awareness in both Britain and throughout the world, but this visit will help us to experience in real life a school where there is a wide mix of children with different ethnic backgrounds and almost 50 per cent of the children do not have English as their first language.’
The letter also explains that four teachers will accompany the children on the two-day trip, which will involve pupils sleeping in the Isleworth school and using its catering facilities, for an estimated cost of £35.
While in London, the Devon children will engage in outdoor activities and record a CD.
Pupils from the school have written to their new pen-pals in London, some of whom will take part in a return visit to the school, near Honiton.
Mrs Hammett’s letter invites parents to a meeting to discuss the trip. But yesterday one mother said: ‘I’m astounded by this idea. Just because the children go to a small school in the country does not mean they aren’t aware of people with different coloured skin to them.
'It’s very patronising – and for the school they are visiting too.'
‘We are being asked to shell out £35 to try and boost their next Ofsted inspection. I think it’s a very cynical approach.’
However, another parent supported the initiative, saying: ‘I think it’s a nice idea.
‘We don’t live in an ethnically diverse area, so it’s good for the kids to meet children from other kinds of background.’
In Isleworth, student Usna Hakimi, 19, who was picking up her two sisters up from Smallberry Green, said: ‘They’ve just told me about the sleepover and they’re quite excited to meet other children from a different part of England. It’s good for them to learn about other cultures.’
Smallberry Green head Caroline Hodges said the trip was organised with Payhembury because it places emphasis on outdoor learning.
‘The children will not be doing any cultural activities when they are here,’ she said.
The Rev Cate Edmonds, chairman of the governors at Payhembury, said: ‘We are fairly mono-cultural as an area in Devon and we don’t want children growing up thinking the whole world is full of trees and cows. This gives them an experience of urban living.’
Mrs Hammett said the trip, in which 29 pupils are taking part, was about providing an enriching experience for the children at both schools.
‘Devon is very quaint but our children don’t get to see the big wide world,’ she said.
At Ofsted’s last visit in 2010, inspectors praised Payhembury as a ‘happy place’ but pointed out all the pupils were of ‘white British heritage’.
Their report recommended ‘improving links with communities in contrasting parts of the UK and abroad’.
Last night Ofsted said at that time inspectors were required to report on the contribution made by the school to community cohesion, a requirement removed in 2011.