Education Nov 7 2010

Some questions for the West London Free school

Fancy being the public face of the ‘most talked about educational project in the country’? Then here is the job for you, as the head teacher of the West London Free School. There are a number of interesting things about this school, one of the original 16 free schools approved by Michael Gove, which you may want to know first though.

For a start where is it? Neither the Head Teacher advertisement, nor the public consultation, makes this clear. When the West London parent campaigners started out, the were pleading for a school in Ealing, or Acton to be precise, because as founder member Toby Young never tired of telling us, his existing local school, Acton High, wasn’t good enough for his children.

However now it is going to be in Hammersmith and Fulham, at an undisclosed address, which raises some interesting issue about its admissions. It will apparently abide by the School Admissions Code of Practice, and take some local children, but local to where?

The remainder will come via a lottery carried out within bands of 3 and 5 miles away from the gate that doesn’t yet exist, but the school won’t use the London common application form. Instead a separate application form will be e-mailed directly to prospective parents and the places handed out in a process that will be ‘completely confidential’.

Will anyone ever know if the places are allocated fairly? Or is this just a clever ruse to ensure that the sponsoring parents get their children in. This ability to act outside the common application framework, which even includes academies now, is ripe for abuse. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens in schools that are able to manipulate their first intake; they get quickly ‘branded’ and then enjoy a virtuous cycle as siblings get priority access and other like minded parents sharpen their elbows to get in.

And what about its apparently unique ethos? Apparently there will be high expectations, strong discipline, competitive sports, excellent pastoral care, especially for pupils with SEN, an extended day and guess what?  Pupils will be taught Maths, English, Science, History, RE, Music and Art and do between 8 or 10 GCSEs. Revolutionary!!  Apart from the fact that, compulsory Latin aside, these things are already going on in schools up and down the country, including at Acton High, the school left behind.

There is one other thing you may want to know though – the sponsors have decided that before you even start, and before the  first year 7 intake is a twinkle in Toby’s eye, every single one of those pupils will get at least six good GCSEs in academic subjects and go on to ‘good’ universities. No pressure then, but because you are worth it, the sky is the limit when it comes to pay. As the ad puts it ‘SALARY TO ATTRACT THE BEST’!

Which brings me to my final question, one that may be shared by every chair of governors currently seeking a head teacher in straitened financial times? Where is the money coming from? As will so many of the other questions raised above, don’t you think we should be told?

Leave a Reply