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06/02/11

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Is the West London Free School now going to force a special school into second class premises?

Interesting shenanigans in Hammersmith and Fulham where the West London Free School is still trying to pin down a site for its comprehensive grammar, secular faith, latin speaking, liberal education school.

According to the WLFS campaign website, the ‘proposed’ locations for the new school are for the first  two years, in an institution called the ‘Bryony Centre‘ in White City after which it will be moving the Palingswick house, which even though it looks like a small private school from the outside, currently houses a number of refugee groups.

This plan has already caused some consternation in the local area, not just because the refugee groups will be evicted from Palingswick, but also because the Bryony Centre was due to be converted under the now defunct BSF project into a state of the art special school, into which pupils from the Cambridge special school in the south of the borough would be moved in two years.

Staff , parents and pupils at the Cambridge School were devastated to learn that they weren’t going to get their new buildings when BSF was cancelled.  But now another even more demoralising plan seems to be afoot. We’ve been told that following an early morning visit to their school a few weeks ago by WLFS parent campaigner Toby Young, staff have been warned that they may now be moving to the unreconstructed Bryony site ( apparently in a much worse condition than their current school) so that the WLFS can have the Cambridge school buildings , an altogether more attractive  site and coincidentally in a more affluent part of the borough, for the next couple of years.

According to one local resident who desscribed the WLFS as’ ruthless’ when it came to getting what it wanted: ‘The Cambridge building is no longer fit for purpose but the Bryony centre is even worse. ‘

The WLFS campaigners have always argued that their school would be fully inclusive without adversely affecting any of its neighbouring schools. Forcing young people with special needs at short  notice into second class premises seems incompatible with that aim especially, as there appears to be no meaningful consultation about this plan. At the very least the Cambridge parents, pupils and teachers should be allowed to campaign for first call on any capital resources, so that their new building can be renovated before they move in, and before money is spent on free schools which may not even be needed.

Does anyone know anything more about this story?

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  1. I know more about it, Fiona.

    After Hammersmith and Fulham announced that it was prepared to make the Bryony Centre available to the West London Free School as a temporary site, Sir William Atkinson, the Head of Phoenix High School, which abuts the Bryony Centre, suggested to the Council that it should consider moving the Cambridge School – a school for children with special needs – to the Bryony Centre and us into the Cambridge School’s existing site in Hammersmith. As you rightly point out, the Bryony Centre had been earmarked as the site of the Cambridge School’s new home as part of H&F’s BSF programme, but that plan was put on hold indefinitely when BSF was cancelled which is why the Bryony Centre – currently an empty primary school – became available. The reason Sir William suggested it might be a more suitable home for the Cambridge School, even in its current form, is because there are some special needs facilities close by, including facilities in Phoenix High School, and he thought there might be enough money within H&F’s existing budget to refurbish the Bryony Centre to a sufficient standard. The BSF plan was to demolish the Bryony Centre and stick up a new build in its place, but the current condition of the Bryony Centre isn’t bad and could be made better with a small amount of money being spent on it.

    When Sir William’s suggestion was relayed to me by a Council officer, I went to see Olivia Meyrick, the head of the Cambridge School, to see if she and her staff would prefer to be in the Bryony Centre. That was my morning visit that you refer to. Olivia confirmed that she and her staff would much prefer to be in the Bryony Centre, even in its current condition, for the reasons Sir William had set out. I asked her what the attitude of the parents of the children at the Bryony Centre would be to the move and she assured me that they’d be in favour of it. She pointed out that a majority of the children at the Cambridge School live in or near the White City Estate which is only a few hundred yards from the Bryony Centre so it would be easier for them to get to.

    The Council is currently conducting a feasibility study to see if there is sufficient time between now and next September to refurbish the Bryony Centre and whether they do, in fact, have sufficient funds in their existing schools budget to do it.

    Funnily enough, when I was discussing this one of the Children’s Services officers at H&F I pointed out that some people would accuse us of forcing young people with special needs out of their existing site and into what appeared to be a less desirable site. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “This is something the parents and staff of the Cambridge School want to happen.” “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Our enemies are so ruthless they’ll accuse of displacing children with special needs anyway. If you think they would hesitate before using children with special needs in such a cheap and underhand way, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”

    I can’t say I’m happy to be proved right, Fiona, but I won’t be as unhappy as Olivia Meyrick or Sir William Atkinson who will regard this malicious and ill-informed intervention by you as jeopardising their proposal and, ultimately, damaging the interests of the children at the Cambridge School and their families. If you are genuine about wanting to protect their interests I suggest you go and see the Head of the Cambridge School and ask her what she and her staff would most like to happen, just as I did.

    The West London Free School is not “ruthless” about getting what it wants. On the contrary, we’re bending over backwards to ensure that our new school causes the minimum of disruption to any of the local schools. We have consulted with the headteachers of all the local primary and secondary schools, as well as with H&F’s admissions authority and the admissions authorities of the neighbouring boroughs. Indeed, it would have been completely improper of us not to consider this latest proposal, given that it’s been suggested by a local Head and has the enthusiastic support of the Head of the special needs school in question.

    After you’ve found out all the facts, Fiona, I expect you’ll want to offer the West London Free an apology. We will, of course, be happy to accept it.

  2. Thanks for clarifying this Toby, although you do seem to be confirming the rumours that we had heard, so I am not sure that an apology is in order especially as, from what you say, everyone is happy about this proposal.
    I assume there will be a full consultation of parents, pupils and staff about the move, – you seem to be suggesting it would have been better for this decision to be made without any public scrutiny. One of the concerns we have about the free schools/academies policy is that these schools seem to be able to evade the sort of accountability, required of maintained schools – for example NOT having details of their budgets or spending published in the way that other schools do.
    We would be happy to host any response from Sir William or Ms Meyrick, representatives of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, or indeed parents and teachers at the Cambridge School, about their support for the plans to refurbish the Bryony Centre to a suitable standard for a special school in time for September.

  3. PlaceFarm says:

    Given that WLFS seems to be scrabbling around to find a suitable site to open, and that it seems that it would be a real struggle to convert the Bryony Centre in time for September, wouldn’t it be better to postpone opening for a year. That would allow proper planning, consultation and scrutiny.

  4. Gary Delahay says:

    You’ve failed to check your facts before making very unpleasant allegations against some well meaning people, and you’re not sure an apology is in order? My God! Ms Millar, if you oppose these people on ideological grounds, so be it: fight using arguments and fight fair. Shame on you.

  5. Dominic Gettins says:

    A consultation should ideally represent the views of more than 2 people, don’t you think?

  6. By the way Toby, I am going to take your point about the ‘malicious and ill informed interventions’ with a pinch of salt. Pots and kettles spring to mind, given your activities elsewhere on the web.

  7. Gary Delahay says:

    Er, those for which you thanked Toby Young for clarifying!
    And since, in view of his clarification, it is clear that your post was unfair and misleading, you really should apologise. This isn’t that complicated you know.

    • I am not clear which bit of the post was misleading. Toby Young has confirmed what we had heard, which is that the West London Free School might move onto the site that currently houses a special school. The special school will then have to move into an existing building, which by all accounts is in a much poorer condition. Parents , pupils and staff at the special school have not been consulted and no one appears to know how much money will be allocated to re-furbishing the new building to an appropriate standard for special needs education. All of this is being rushed in order to allow a free school to open in September and, as one of our contributors pointed out, could be done with more care over a longer period of time.
      I don’t think these are unreasonable points to make given that a great deal of public money is going into funding these free school projects, which often appear NOT to be needed. In the meantime, other schools, like those in my area and the remaining schools in Hammersmith and Fulham have lost all the BSF capital investment they were expecting in the next 18 months, some of which will be re-directed to free schools. And, as you will see if you read this article , nearly all maintained school are getting a 70-80% cut in their devolved capital funding, which means they have little or no money for repairs or refurbishment. In short there isn’t much spare cash to go around for schools.. Surely it is entirely legitimate to question how that money is spent and whether there is proper local scrutiny of these decisions?

  8. There is a big accountability issue here. Why is the public not being informed about these developments? Issues are arising because everything seems to being done behind the taxpayer’s “back”.

    • By the way I should point out that this story was brought to our attention by someone connected to the special school who doesn’t appear to be very happy but felt unable to express these concerns publicly.

  9. Frank says:

    Transparency is definitely the key here. As is the way with the WLFS, if they can fudge the issue, they will.
    The bee in *my* bonnet currently, is the link between the WLFS and the London Oratory School.
    For example, did the WLFS pay the London Oratory School for the use of its facilities all day yesterday*?
    Toby’s enterprise is state-funded, like the Oratory, so we have a right to know what our money is being spent on. Don’t we?

    * music auditions for Toby’s school were held at LOS

  10. Maybe its all part of the government’s new drive to get outstanding schools to partner weaker neighbours! Seriously though, we are getting started on a campaign for full transparency about free schools and academies, especially when it comes to their funding but still waiting for a response to our FOI requests.

  11. Frank says:

    Toby’s free school is named as the school the London Oratory is “supporting” as LOS considers becoming an Academy. That was revealed last week.
    Surely there are more deserving schools in the area?

  12. I would conclude that if parents and staff at the Cambridge School have not been consulted about the school’s move to another site then no consultation has taken place. Mr Young’s visits to the Head and Sir William would not appear to be a consultation process. Public money is funding the WLFS, therefore we should be informed about where this money is being spent. It is funny how ‘Transparency’ only seems to mean that the public is told only what the government wants us to know.

  13. The lack of proper, full, publically transparent consultation about these types of plans is a major issue. We have to rely on people like Toby (who let’s face it may not be the most impartial person in all of this) who report back that X head says that Y staff and Z parents are all very happy about something – not necessarily the best way of understanding how those involved really feel about it.

    It was v similar with the Bolingbroke Academy when Jon de Maria reported back the views of Gale Keller (Head of Battersea Park School one of the local secondaries affected by the plans) in order to justify the free school admissions policy that excludes one of our most deprived primary schools. When Gale Keller was asked about this portrayal of his views, he said he had been misquoted (on this very site in fact) http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/…/bankers-free-school-story-underlines-that-free-school-policy-will-favour-the-rich/.

    We have been told about other local heads who reportedly say that they have not been properly consulted even though those in favour of the free school would claim that they have.

    In the case of the excluded primary school, Falconbrook, apparently sending a letter to the Head that was never replied to counts as a consultation and indicates agreement to the admissions policy which excludes their pupils.

    So, it’s quite hard to sort the fact from the hearsay and avoid the possible misrepresentation of people’s views. All a very bizarre way to conduct things in my view which actually actively invites suspicion and mistrust towards those organising free schools when it may not really be justified…

  14. Scrivens says:

    Oh, just watch those crocodile tears for transparency! The vast majority of the councils that haven’t published expenditure over £500 are Labour councils. The vast majority of the councils that have refused FOI requests are Labour councils.

    The usual suspects here are seizing on bogus “transparency” and “consultation” issues as a smokescreen for an ideological attack on anything that gives power to people and takes it away from state planners.

    • I don’t think we would defend any council, Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem that withheld this sort of information from its local electors. It is hard to see how people can be ‘empowered’ if they don’t know what is going on, or if a select few are in the inside track while others, who may be equally affected, aren’t. As the charter school providers like to tell us ‘Knowledge is Power’.

  15. It is good that Tory H&F Council is having second thoughts about giving the Bryony Centre to the West London Free School rather than to Cambridge School for pupils with special educational needs. Yet it is still favouring the free school over disadvantaged children at the Bridge Academy and it is hiding behind Toby Young rather than defend its own behaviour. For his part, Young is still in denial that discussions with council officials about moving Cambridge into the Bryony continued even after Building Schools for the Future was cancelled. See more at http://hfconwatch.blogspot.com/2011/02/wl-free-school-farce-as-tory-council.html

  16. The fact that certain Councils are not being transparent should not divert attention from the fact that the Department of Education is refusing Freedom of Information requests. The Today programme, today 7 Feb 6.30am, requested information about funding for free schools using FoI, but failed to get a response. No Minister was available to answer questions. It was left to Toby Young and Francis Gilbert to discuss funding at 8.10am.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y5ckz/Today_07_02_2011/

    The question needs to be asked: why won’t the Government release the figures?

  17. not a good first sentence fiona. “Latin-speaking” should of course read Latin reading and writing. No one speaks Latin. It is a dead language. Back to school for you.

  18. Mr Grumpy says:

    ‘By the way I should point out that this story was brought to our attention by someone connected to the special school who doesn’t appear to be very happy but felt unable to express these concerns publicly.’

    So are you hinting that Toby Young is lying about what the head told him, or that she is lying about the wishes of the staff and parents? Or that she’s such an incompetent head that she has no idea what the staff and parents want? Or is it that you just don’t want to make that apology?

  19. I can’t speak for Fiona but I would imagine there may be a range of views amongst parents and staff that may not all have been fully represented by Toby’s paraphrasing of his conversation with the Head. No need for anyone to be lying or incompetent, just recognition that there may be more complex or divergent views which would be better understood through more transparency and consultation.

  20. so what’s your point? you’re in favour of the free school and its grammar-style approach after all?

  21. @laura brown in other words, toby’s won the argument, but please don’t be humiliate fiona any further

  22. No just a mild joke at my own expense. Don’t let it trouble you.

  23. It troubles me that you enjoy the benefits (including a highbrow wit!) of a grammar-standard education and seem hell-bent on preventing a Free School from delivering that to the children of Hammersmith and Fulham, in the name of some trumped-up transparency gripes and some cheap shots at Toby Young. This is no laughing matter.

  24. David Flanaghan says:

    A media studies teacher trying to make a name for herself pretending to actually care about the future of education. Quite laughable really.

  25. Julian Springer says:

    Gorgias himself would be proud of your sophistry! Must have learnt it at your free grammar school where you received a rigorous education in the classics. If you can’t understand why an apology should be forthcoming you must be feigning stupidty. (“shenanigans, refuguees, ruthless, fit for purpose”…… fair and balanced) Just the facts please. Oh and an apology!

  26. Sheumais says:

    Which would you prefer, that you are wilfully misleading and uninterested in independently verifying your facts before committing to print due to political dogma or just lazy and spiteful? If you still, honestly, can’t see the failing in what you write, perhaps you would be better not to expose your failings so publicly.

    “Staff , parents and pupils at the Cambridge School were devastated”

    Were they? How many did you ask or are you relying upon the word of the one person who contacted you?

    “shenanigans”

    Really? Those involved in making the decisions and providing the services were consulted. Are these “shenanigans” or attempts to get the best outcome for all concerned?

    “and coincidentally in a more affluent part of the borough”

    It appears this is coincidental, but you’re implying it’s not. That’s distinctly unpleasant of you, though consistent.

    “According to one local resident”

    Is this supposed to be investigative journalism?

    “Forcing young people with special needs at short notice into second class premises seems incompatible with that aim”

    Well, that is of course how you would like it to appear, but then you are happy to condemn the Head of the Cambridge School for no given reason other than a wrong assumption it will disadvantage the pupils.

    This is an appallingly ignorant article Ms Millar and you should be embarrassed by it. I very much doubt you are familiar with shame, but please don’t pretend you have the children’s interests at heart, when it is only too apparent you’re not interested in their welfare at all.

  27. The transparency gripes are not “trumped up”. We saw last week how Westminster parents knew nothing about a free school opening in their area until plans were finalised. At the same time the DfE will not release costings for free schools. I think we have every cause to be suspicious.

  28. Yet again Laura you take the moral high ground from which to then spread the same old slur and innuendo. The alleged conversation I was meant to have had with Gale Keller never actually took place – that is covered at length in the link you post above but in short was down to some nasty little spin by the GMB. Being bullied by the unions is no fun but if they – and you – want to play your ‘class war’ games then that is your choice. The reality is that our pupil intake will be pretty much the same as for both a typical Wandsworth comp and London secondary schools at large. As for capital spend, free schools are likely to be significantly cheaper than old style academies on a cost per pupil basis (where Labour basically threw carpet tiles at the solution across £50 billion+ of BSF spend). As a local group of parents, we are only concerned about putting children at the centre of the debate – unlike the Anti Academies Alliance and the unions, whose main interest is getting into political handbagging with the elected coalition. I went to a local union branch meeting last year on free schools and for 2 solid hours there was not a single mention of ‘children’, just old style 1970s gibberish about the unions taking on the right wing. It was ridiculous. There will be some good free schools and some not so good free schools, just like there are some good and bad maintained schools. To project the debate as so black and white and politically expedient is very poor.

  29. Sheumais says:

    Every cause to be suspicious of what exactly? Are you suggesting it will be more expensive to set-up a free school in existing premises than it would be to extend existing premises with an extension? On what are you basing these claims? Are you suspicious widely publicised free school which is not yet in a position to offer places hasn’ t advertised admissions yet? How likely is it a school could open and no-one in the area would notice? Would you be equally suspicious if the person driving the free school was a Labour party supporter?

  30. Ben Taylor says:

    It seems some facts in dispute. I have made some observations on Fiona’s text in quotes and I think it would help if Fiona Millar could clarify some of her statements in response: some of these I think are capable of a yes or no answer:

    1. “Is the West London Free School now going to force a special school into second class premises?”. Can be answered yes or no. Well the answer from Toby Young is no. Anyway where is the legal authority to do this by force by Toby Young or the WLFS etc.?

    2. “This plan has already caused some consternation in the local areas”. OK please get some sources quoted so we can test this statement.

    3. “We’ve been told that following an early morning visit to their school a few weeks ago by WLFS parent campaigner Toby Young, staff have been warned that they may now be moving to the unreconstructed Bryony site”. Can you explain unreconstructed? Is refurbishment by the LA OK as described by Toby Young? Or do you mean it is not getting a BSF style major demolition and rebuild or part rebuild/refurb as per the previous Labour government? The meaning you attach to unreconstructed is important. Fiona you could be accused of using this word deceptively.

    4. “Forcing young people with special needs at short notice into second class premises seems incompatible with that aim especially, as there appears to be no meaningful consultation about this plan.” Fiona have you asked the LA and Cambridge School if they are consulting: yes/no? Again where is the action and authority of force?

    Thankyou I look forward to your reply.

  31. The difficulty here is, as has been stated, is the lack of transparency in the push towards free schools: the cost, publicity, accountability and so forth. In such an atmosphere rumour and conjecture will occur. Ms Millar asked a question: Mr Young promptly responded. Which is more than the DfE does when asked for information. As I said yesterday, neither the DfE or Ministers answered questions from the BBC Today programme. It was left to Francis Gilbert and Toby Young to debate the issue.

  32. Richard says:

    Fiona

    Can I strip the whole argument to its simplest, and suggest that you keep your nose out of other people’s business?

    What other people do to achieve education for their children is up to them. that you do not approve is irrelevant. You are trying to interfere in other people’s basic freedoms.

    Although she seems to have a positive attitude Janet Downs did illustrate the sort of arguments given by busybodies like you, Ms Millar, to try and interfere with other people’s freedom. Cost is a distraction, as the current cost of educating a child is ridiculous (I used to work in vocational education in the private sector, so I have fair knowledge of how much it costs to lay on tuition) and it would be easy to set up and run a profitable school for that sort of money. Publicity is the responsibility of those running the free schools, as long as it is honest (like with any free enterprise). Accountability comes from the market. If the school is poor then it will have no pupils and so no income.

    This article is of course an even more tenuous argument, of special cases making bad laws. Freeing schools can only help special education, as free enterprise deals much better with niches than government bodies or other large corporations do. It always has and always will.

    Ms Millar, your argument should be to extend the freedom of education, not restrict it. If each pupil had a voucher (special educational needs would of course allow a pupil a second voucher only to be used in pursuit of those needs) to be used to pay for a school place, tuition or educational materials. The government should then restricted itself to light-touch regulation. In that case those pupils with special needs would not only have suitable facilities but their schools would have full rights to their own properties, and this would not have become an issue.

  33. Justin Althaus says:

    I am new to the commenting game, so forgive me if this is not how it works, but can we please return briefly to where this all began?
    Fiona, your original post was prompted by the fact that someone had told you that “staff [at the Cambridge School] have been warned that they may now be moving to the unreconstructed Bryony site (apparently in a much worse condition than their current school) so that the WLFS can have the Cambridge school buildings”. Without taking the trouble to check whether that was a fair description of what had happened you duly relayed this information in your post; and having done so, and assuming that it was indeed fair, you added this tendentious comment for good measure: “WLFS campaigners have always argued that their school would be fully inclusive without adversely affecting any of its neighbouring schools. Forcing young people with special needs at short notice into second class premises seems incompatible with that aim.”
    Your post prompted a swift response from Toby Young in which he explained to you that, quite contrary to the impression you had given, the head of Cambridge School had told him that she and her staff would much prefer to move to the Bryony Centre, and had assured him that parents would welcome the move as well. No one has since come forward to contradict that statement. So it would appear that not only did your informant give an entirely misleading impression of what had happened, but your own comment was completely unwarranted, as you would have discovered if you had checked the story before posting it.
    In the circumstances I share Gary Delahey’s incredulity, expressed above: how could you possibly think you don’t owe an apology to WLFS? Never mind pots, kettles and the rest. It is, apart from anything else, a matter of good manners. You should say sorry; and then everyone can get back to debating the merits of the underlying issue.

  34. Ben Taylor says:

    Question for Fiona Millar: will you apologise if you have made an accusation of the WLFS forcing a special school in to second class premises which turns out to be false?

  35. Is it now the case that the WLFS is not only displacing a special school, but also depriving a Pupil Referral Unit, also home to many excluded and disadvantaged pupils, of its planned new home? I understand that this Unit – the Bridge Academy – was due to move into the Cambridge School site under BSF plans and now has nowhere to go since the WLFS is being given the site instead.
    Since your campaign is so keen on apologies however, I wonder if Toby Young would like to apologise for the malicious and unfounded allegations he made about me, about one of my children and about the founders of the Local Schools Network on the Telegraph website on November 12 2010.
    I would like to see the apology on the Telegraph website, and also on the site of the WLFS where I understand the link also appeared.

  36. As a Conservative, and to my discredit, I initially saw Fiona as the enemy until I realised that unlike many politicians/commentators of all hue she is totally principled in her convictions on education, and her actions have always been consistent with her ideals, although I won’t pretend that I agree with every one of them.

    Toby Young did also earlier say about Fiona “she’s an intelligent, attractive woman, ferociously well-informed about her subject” I guess he knew the truth about her before some of the doubters.

  37. Cost is not irrelevant when it is taxpayers’ money and when schools which badly needed new buildings have been deprived of cash.

    Freedom of choice in education is an interesting philosophical question. Would it be nobody else’s business if I, as a parent, wanted to choose a school which would educate my child to regard anyone not like him as inferior? Or if I wanted my daughter to learn that she was subordinate to men? Is it solely for the parent to decide what sort of education their child should receive, if that education leaves the child ill-informed, prejudiced and unable to live comfortably in society?

    Society needs to know what is being taught in schools if children are to develop into well-educated adults able to take their place in society.

  38. Olivia Meyrick says:

    Now that everyone seems to have had their say on this matter, can I assure you all that Sir William Atkinson and I formally requested the local authority to consider changing their plans because, however nice a new BSF building might have been, the advantages for Cambridge students in being on the Bryony site far outweigh those of the schools present position.

    Toby Young and the West London Free School Trustees have worked fairly and positively with Cambridge School during this change of plan, and I for one, am delighted that the situation appears to be moving in a positive direction for both schools.

    What a shame that Fiona Millar didn’t pick up the phone and check her facts before reporting on something as important as children’s education. It may interest you to know that the three guiding principles in our school are “Courtesy, Consideration and Respect” I don’t think I need to say any more.

  39. [...] so I could take over the site. You can read that blog post – and my response in the comments – here. And a delightful BBC disc jockey said on twitter that he could "happily punch to death" everyone [...]

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Is the West London Free School now going to force a special school into second class premises?

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