Stop behaving like a petulant child and give us some straight answers Toby!

Francis Gilbert's picture
One of the pleasures of this website is that it does have the room to examine and scrutinise things in detail. Toby Young wrote a long response to my points about the mysteries of the West London Free School's admissions system and then penned a vicious attack on Fiona in a blog in the Telegraph. His emotive attacks are pure bluster, disguising some mendacious and ill-conceived arguments. He abhors "questions", clearly feeling extremely threatened by them. He answers very few indeed with straight replies. But since he and the WLFS are possibly enjoying and will definitely enjoy potentially millions of pounds from us, the taxpayer, surely it's time he answered those questions. Worryingly no one in government is asking these vital questions.

Toby, you can't stop freedom of speech so let's press on with the questions. Firstly, let's examine an important paragraph you wrote in response to my last blog:

"Our admissions policy isn’t set in stone. We’re still at the consultation stage and are consulting various bodies about our proposed policy. The policy we’re discussing here is the one we’re in the process of consulting people about – and, indeed, if you and your colleagues have any positive suggestions I’d be glad to take them on board."

It's a little surprising you're saying that you would like to consult with us when you have just posted such an outspoken attack on us in the Telegraph: are you serious Toby? If so, we're more than willing to talk to you! Furthermore, who are the other bodies he is going to consult with?

TY goes onto say:

"What does local mean? Good question, Francis. While academies/free schools are obliged to ensure their intake is “wholly or mainly local”, there’s no clear guidance as to how “local” should be defined. (Or “mainly” for that matter.) We’ve interpreted that to mean that if our school is in Hammersmith and Fulham, then approximately 50% of the pupils should be Hammersmith and Fulham residents and that’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve in the design of our admissions policy."

I note that you didn't answer my question about what you considers local in Ealing. Where is the starting point for your locality in Ealing? Is it indeed starting from your house? Moreover, I am sorry but I just don't accept "being in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham" as being local at all; many local schools in London have catchment areas of less than half a mile.

Onto your next comment:

"As should be clear, we aren’t deliberately over-complicating our admissions policy to make it easier for middle class parents to secure places for their children. On the contrary, we’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for middle class parents to “game” our admissions while complying with the wishes of the DfE and the LA."

Just because you state this Toby doesn't mean it's true: you seem to have a worryingly child-like propensity to think that your statements must be true by dint of fact that you've said them. Most people reading your criteria would probably be quite confused as to HOW BEST to get their child into your school: should it be by living within 5 miles or 3 miles within the school, or by living near you in Ealing? Clearly, getting their child to be good at music would be a massive advantage. When you replied to my inquiry to send my son to the school you appeared to indicate that he would have a chance of getting a place even though we live in Bethnal Green, miles away from Hammersmith and Fulham: however I do believe we are within a five mile radius of the school. That isn't a hundred per cent clear because I don't really know where the site is yet...

The point is that it's clearly an admissions' policy stacked massively in favour of wised-up parents. You even accept this tacitly when you say:

"I accept that admitting 10% according to their aptitude for Music is controversial and that most of the people visiting this forum will be opposed to aptitude selection in principle. My view is that while trying to measure aptitude in some specialisms without favouring middle class parents may be difficult, that doesn’t apply to Music. As I’ve said already, the test we’re proposing to use is designed to eliminate this bias (and I would hope that you’d be able to confirm this, Francis, with your quantitative and qualitative research expertise)."

Vital questions from a serious researcher: what is this test? Does it involve reading Western musical notation? A requirement to have passed a musical Grade? If it's any of these things then it's going to be biased towards children from wealthier backgrounds.

"Francis, you asked who would administer our lottery and that’s a bridge we’ll cross once the proposed policy has been approved. But rest assured it will be completely fair and transparent. If it isn’t, we’ll be tied up in time-consuming appeals by disappointed parents for a year and a day. Trust me when I tell you that’s a red herring."

I am afraid it's not a red herring; again saying it is doesn't make it so. This is extremely important. A recent Barnado's report into secondary admissions showed that when a school is its own admissions' authority school intakes were nearly always skewed towards richer children, no matter whether there was a lottery, fair banding or local catchment area intake. On page 4 of the report "The top secondary schools (on a measure of getting five GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths) take on average only five per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals, less than half the national average. The top secondary schools (on a measure of getting five GCSEsat A* to C including English and maths) take on average only five per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals, less than half the national average."

Read the Barnado's report Toby in the first instance. This charity has no connection with us whatsoever but arrives at exactly the same conclusions. Your school is clearly going to contribute towards increasing social segregation and the lowering of standards overall.

You are behaving like a petulant child about our questions Toby. after you've calmed from your tantrum, had a little nap and time to reflect, could you please start giving us some straight answers? I'm more than willing to talk to you face-t0-face if you promise not to throw a hissy fit.
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