Views sought on ‘free’ school
Friday November 5, 2010
Parents, teachers and community groups in Hammersmith & Fulham are being asked what they think about plans to open a secondary ‘free’ school in the borough.
Journalist and author Toby Young is one of a group of people behind the West London Free School, one of 16 groups in the UK that have government approval to set up new parent-sponsored state schools.
“Our aim is to create the kind of school we’d like our children to go to: one that is non-fee paying and non-selective, but that offers the kind of rigorous academic education that is normally associated with selective schools or high-performing faith schools,” he says.
“The idea is to make this sort of education available to parents of children from a wide variety of backgrounds, not just those who happen to be of a particular faith or who can afford to go private.”
The government’s new rules on free schools have been welcomed by groups like Toby’s, enabling them to fulfill their ambitions to get directly involved in running their children’s school and opening up new choices for parents struggling to find places in the state system. They plan to admit children in September 2011, starting with120 pupils in Year 7.
But free schools have proved controversial. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and former teacher at St Edmunds School in Fulham, said free schools will create chaos at local level. “Groups setting up their own schools irrespective of local planning needs would be a retrograde step that will lead to planning gridlock and social division”.
Toby Young’s reply is that his school will benefit the borough providing the extra places needed by a growing school-age population and offering an alternative for the large numbers of local children who currently go to school outside the borough or to private schools.
“We believe the West London School will prove popular with both parents and children in Hammersmith & Fulham, offering a choice that many of them don’t have at present.
“In addition to academic rigour, the school will be characterised by high expectations, strong discipline and a competitive atmosphere.”
He describes his vision for a ‘classical liberal education’ in a consultation document being sent to local parents and available on the internet at www.westlondonfreeschool.co.uk (opens new window).
The school plans to specialise in music and children will be expected to study Latin at least until the age of 14 and to sit at least eight academic GCSEs or IGCSEs. Competitive sport will be a big part of school life.
However, he rejects criticism that this curriculum and ethos excludes everyone outside his middle-class peer group.
“We are committed to ensuring the school’s intake reflects the ethnic and social diversity of the local area. One of the reasons social mobility has ground to a halt over the last 25 years is because, on the whole, children from low income families don't have access to first class education and this is an attempt to do something about that."
The West London Free School has the backing of H&F Council who are actively helping in the search for a suitable site for the new school in the borough. Leader of the Council, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says; “We will do everything we can to support parents wanting to set up free schools. The West London Free School would be very welcome in H&F. It will extend the choices open to local families, help us cater for the growing local population and support our aspiration to encourage more families to choose local state schools rather than going private.”
Other free schools in the borough
There are currently two other groups with government backing to develop free schools in the borough. These are Ark Conway primary in White City and the Rivendale Free School, planned for Shepherds Bush. Both would be for primary age children.
ARK Academies, which already runs Burlington Danes Academy in Du Cane Road, is working with the North Hammersmith Parent Group to set up the Ark Conway Primary Academy on the former Wormholt library site in White City.
Rivendale Free School would be in Shepherd's Bush, but a suitable site has yet to be found. It would have no religious ethos and the group behind it hope that it will offer an alternative to the area's faith schools for children of non-faith or multi-faith backgrounds.
In addition to these three free school proposals, a parents' group has also approached the council and the London Diocesan Board to discuss the possibility of setting up a Church of England boys' secondary school. They intend to seek the views of local parents in order to gauge the level of interest in the proposal.