The West London Free School was set up by Toby Young et al, claiming to fill the vacuum of a suitable 'local' school up to acceptable standard for their children. In this article I have chosen not to focus on the group of parents/teachers/politicians/business opportunists who want to set up this new 'free' school. Instead I have decided to take a closer look at the current 'local' school for those in this specific same catchment area. In this case - Acton High School
Acton High School is a slightly larger than average 11-16 mixed comprehensive, with students who come from a diverse range of socio-economic and ethnic communities. The majority of pupils have a first language that is not English, and a small minority are at an early stage of learning to speak English. A very high proportion is eligible for free school meals, and the proportion with special educational needs is almost twice the national average' (Ofsted 2009
). The school received a good rating from Ofsted with comments about outstanding care for students and the promotion of community cohesion. 'When we dropped in on classrooms at random we were met with well-behaved, studious pupils' (Ofsted 2009
This school has been the object of multiple unfair and unjustifiable insults and abuse for not being being 'academically rigorous enough'. Founder of the West London Free School Toby Young has been responsible for a politically motivated vendetta makes Phil Woolas look like a saint. In reality Acton High is a school which offers a range of academic combinations including international English qualifications, the opportunity to take three sciences or two languages (twenty pupils even studying online for a Latin GCSE). I feel it is very sad when political objectives result in running down our existing local schools that deserves to be celebrated and encouraged and instead dragged through the dirt.
Last month on national TV, Young said he disliked Acton High’s ethos and curriculum because they were required to 'indoctrinate children'. As far as I know he has never visited the school, but has proceeded gratuitously to give his local school a bad reputation just for the mischief of it. Ms. Golding, the head teacher of the school had to announce that students did study academic subjects, adding that Acton High's poor reputation was rather old news and that she expected sixty per cent of pupils to gain five A*-C GCSEs within two years.
Problems exists in all schools and no doubt there will be some in schools that haven't yet opened, that are initiated by groups of parents who have still not told the community even where their premises will be. Temporary sites mean that for the first few years pupils may be bussed around various boroughs, hardly good for their education. At the end of the day, setting up a politically motivated new school, as purely 'altruistic' and not indoctrinating, screams the opposite to me. It actually runs roughshod over the local community. If Acton High were so far below par and you were someone with influence in the highest echelons of government, why not attempt to 'help' the local school and be positively active in striving for national changes in regulations ?
Throughout my own research I have found that many, if not most, of our existing schools already have many of the same flexibilities as are seen as the incentive for academies/ Free Schools. The issue that currently worries me most is that the Coalition’s new education policies do not include any viable concept of support for those schools that truly are 'failing'.... it is almost as though they want them to fail so they can be written off and become academies, and not out of choice. That is not CHOICE. That is no good for today’s pupils, parents, teachers and communities. We need to address the problems in our system and to correct them, not make new ones (that are essentially experimental and copied from other unsuccessful models in US/ Sweden), all tied up in some fancy new political wrapping paper and ribbons to appeal to readers of the Daily Telegraph.
What Toby Young seems to want for his children is that which high end private schools promise, because he does not like the concept of public education. That is his prerogative and part of the “CHOICE” we already enjoy. Please reach for your cheque book Mr. Young, and stop slagging off your local school.