Today's Independent has a revealing article
about West London Free School, due to open in September. Tom Packer, the newly appointed head teacher of the school, "acknowledges that its curriculum would not necessarily be suitable for every child." He is referring to its focus only on academic subjects.
So, if the school is offering only a route based on academic subjects and the headteacher is clear that it won't be suitable for every child, what will happen to those children for whom it is not suitable?
The focus of the founders of the Free School is in line with that of Education Secretary Michael Gove, who wants to "restoring academic rigour" into the curriculum. I think he is genuine in wanting more students from poor backgrounds to succeed in traditional subjects and go to top universities. But he seems to have no interest in students, whether from rich or poor backgrounds, whose strength is not academic.
At the school I chair, which has a creative specialism, many students choose creative subjects and go onto art college. And surely it is at least as vital to our future economic success that we have students doing art and design courses, and heading for careers in our creative industries, as it is that there are students doing Maths and History at Oxbridge. We have other students who are less academic and have focused on BTEC and similar qualifications. These are dismissed by some. (Katherine Birbalsingh has suggested BTEC qualifications are a symptom of 'all shall have prizes', though I'm not clear what is wrong with finding each student a qualification that gives them an appropriate prize.) But I know students for whom BTECs at Key Stage 4 have been just right and enabled them to move on to studying at sixth form with qualifications likely to find them a job. What will happen to these students at West London Free School?
The academic-only approach is not supported by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Mossbourne Academy - that Gove claims to seek to emulate. "There will always be a proportion of children in non-selective-schools - and there are in my school certainly - for whom an academic education is not appropriate", explained Sir Michael in TES on 4th February 2011
. The difference is that Mossbourne is a fully comprehensive school committed to enabling all its students to do well, with remarkable results.
I am not sure I have seen before a headteacher of a comprehensive school stating that its curriculum will not be appropriate for all. Indeed such a statement surely means it is not a comprehensive school. Instead is it a step towards creating a new divide between the academic and the non-academic?