ARK Schools’ Insult to Portsmouth and Charles Dickens

The News are carrying the story on their front page today of how Charles Dickens Primary school, which is converting to an Academy this coming school year, is losing the “Charles” from its name.  I am in general a supporter of Academy schools, though I note the growing centralising trend in large chains of them being formed and branded like car dealerships or estate agencies.  It’s tacky.

ARK Schools do seem to be in a bit of a pickle.  They refer to themselves all in capitals in text, but their logo has ark all in lower-case.  In Enfield, they have recently opened John Keats Academy, and Keats is properly commemorated in the name.  So why in Portsmouth must we put up with the chopping out of “Charles” in a school which has served the community for generations?  Why one rule in Enfield and another in Pompey?

Other nations take great pride (the French and Americans, especially) in commemorating important figures in the names of schools and other public buildings.  It is something we could do more of in Portsmouth.

Everyone knows about Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.  HG Wells worked in Kings Rd in his younger years and is less-well commemorated.  Rudyard Kipling lived in Campbell Rd in his childhood (albeit not particularly happily), and he at least has a blue plaque.  Many of us will have had relatives and ancestors who worked for Neville Shute at Airspeed on the airport, and he’s got Norway Road (a big improvement on “Rat Lane” – Neville Shute Norway being his full name).  Jim Callaghan had a road named after him, and he was rather ashamed of his roots.  As soon as he got to Cardiff, where he was an MP, he pretended he’d appeared in the world in a puff of coal-dust.  But I don’t begrudge him the honour. (The matter of honours we should revoke is a topic for another blog and an examination of Harry Redknapp’s Freedom of the City)

There are some lapses in how we honour our authors.  The best the Lib Dems could do for Neil Gaiman, sadly, was to name a bus stop in his honour, but he seemed pretty happy with it.  His family’s shop stood where the Sainsbury’s is now in Albert Road.  Christopher Hitchens was born in Pompey, and was proud of his roots – but official recognition of his towering genius is currently entirely lacking (I am always envious of Southend’s plan for a 300′ statue of Lee Brilleaux, if we do ever do something – or should we save that for Joe Jackson?).

It is important that we honour our famous sons and daughters (I realise the list is VERY male so far).  Charles Dickens school should keep its full name, and ARK or ark or whatever they want to call themselves should listen to the community, which is incensed at the change.  I note with dismay, but not surprise, that Lib Dem Cllr Rob Wood told The News “I don’t have a problem with it”.  I don’t think many of them “get” Pompey at all.  When he was Cabinet member responsible for schools, he “didn’t have a problem” with merging three schools in Milton against the wishes of parents and the advice of governors.  The results of the consultation were 80% against the change, but he stubbornly refused to kick the proposal out.  Thank goodness the new regime, in the shape of Cllr Young, has done just that.

Unfortunately, as it’s an academy, the City Council doesn’t have the power to compel ARK to listen.  But you can make yourself heard – email them at  websites@arkonline.org and tell them what you think of this insult.  They are on Twitter at @ARKschools and may well respond if you tweet them.  They tell me it’s a “minor change”, which I dispute, but if that’s how they see it then it will cost them nothing to admit they are wrong, and change it back.

Come on, ARK, leave “Charles” in the name.  You serve the community, you should listen to it and honour it, just as we have done here for decades.  You have no right to weaken the links the generations you educate have with their past, and you do them a disservice if you do so.  Especially when the school honours one of the greatest writers in the language!

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