West London Free School Secures High Ability Entry

Henry Stewart's picture
A Freedom of Information enquiry to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by Ian McCauley has revealed the proportion of the Year 7 entry to the West London Free School that have attained level 4 or better in English and Maths for the 108 of the 120 students who live in that borough:

95.4% have level 4 in English, compared to 62.5% for the borough as a whole
89.9% have level 4 in Maths, compared to 59.7% for the borough as a whole.

This is a remarkable difference. We can expect in 2016, if the GCSE results showed 83% achieving GCSE English and 77% achieving GCSE Maths, then we would hear much about the success of the school. Yet these are the results that the school will achieve if it simply performs at the national average (assuming half of those at level 4 and above are level 5).

It is unclear how the intake ended up so biased towards the most able. Founder and Chair of Governors Toby Young always claimed it was to be an "all ability school". However we have previously noted that  headteacher Tom Packer stated on appointment that the school was "not appropriate for all children".

Some people did suggest that the focus on Latin for all would encourage applicants from the more academically able children, and distort the intake. Whether that is the reason or not, it certainly appears to be the case that the intake has remarkably few students of 'low prior attainment', to use the DfE term.

Toby  previously summarised, on this site, the case being made against the government: 'you believe that if schools are granted the freedom to act in a more self-interested manner, ignoring the impact of their behaviour on their neighbours, the overall quality of provision will decline and, in particular, the least well-off will suffer' and went on to talk, in contrast, about  '“selfish” behaviour that we believe will benefit all'.

Whether it is down to the "selfish" behaviour of WLFS, or something else, it does appear that it has a preferential intake. The other side of that must be that the other local schools have a lower proportion of the higher attainment students and the "overall quality of provision" may decline as a result.


We did contact Toby with these figures, also noting that the FOI had originally gone to the headteacher but he had stated that they didn't have KS2 results for the students. Toby confirmed this, saying "we don't set much story by KS levels, hence don't collect and record the data". This is curious, given the emphasis that both Ofsted and the DfE put on progress from KS2 levels. Toby also repeated that he saw WLFS as an "all ability school".
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Guest's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 08:17


I believe you have achieved a very high intake at Stoke Newington School, with much lower levels of FSM than the rest of the borough schools. How did you and the head achieve this?

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 08:47

Guest, the admissions for Stoke Newington School are done on the basis of 'fair banding' and are administered by the Learning Trust on behalf of the local authority - as are the admissions for all Hackney schools - to ensure fairness. The intake continues to be a healthy mix of the full range of attainment. On average, using the Year 6 CATs scores that are used by the LA to decide admissions, the school's intake is slightly below the national average and at the same level as the Mossbourne intake.

It is the move away from admissions carried out by the LA, who act in the interests of the whole community, to admissions carried out by individual schools that is one of the main concerns about the new educational landscape.

Guest's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 10:54


Why are your FSM figures half that of other schools in the borough. Are signals being put out by the school?
Do you feel you feel highlighting the fact that higher attaining pupils applied to first cohort at WLFS will encourage more high attaining pupils to attend. So intact in is your highlighting of this situation which will lead to more high achieving pupils applying?
Let's hope surrounding schools raise their game and offering to give parents the offering they want.
A recent YOUGOV poll showed that the education offered by WLFS was wanted by parents ie tough discipline, rigorous academic curriculum.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 11:12

Where is the link to this YouGov Poll? In their Classroom Crackdown poll http://labs.yougov.co.uk/news/2011/09/22/classroom-crackdown/, 71% of parents and 75% of secondary school pupils surveyed did not sanction embarrassing children in front of their classmates, so I hope that the term "dunce" which Toby Young has used, is not common currency in his school!

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 11:23

Guest -

The fair banding system ensures that local children apply to the local school. It's down to catchment, all administered fairly by the LA. This means that, even if the school wanted to admit higher ability students and push KS2 data into the back of the cupboard, it would not be able to, regardless of how many people apply. The get-out clauses in Free Schools Funding Agreements means that fairness can be ignored.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 08:34

I find it odd that Toby Young said the school didn’t collect KS2 data. According to Ofqual writing in February 2011, “The results of end of key stage tests for each school are made available to the public by the Department for Education. Pupils’ individual results are reported by schools to parents and key stage 3 teachers.”

This means that in 2011 the KS2 SAT results were sent to each pupil’s secondary school so WLFS would have received them in the same way as every other secondary school. Yet Mr Packer, head of WLFS said in response to a Freedom of Information request that the school did not hold this information.

So what happened to the KS2 data which would have been sent to WLFS as part of the statutory transfer of data on transition from primary to secondary schools?



Toby Young's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 13:44

We've sourced our Year 7 intake from over 50 different primaries, Janet. Incredibly, not every one of them has forwarded every piece of data they're supposed to – not helped by the fact that we're a brand new school and weren't part of the pan-London admissions process initially. Thinking back, the main excuse the tardy primaries gave was that we didn't have an Edubase number pre-opening – or something like that – so they couldn't use the normal electronic channels.

But if you want to come into the WLFS for a day, call up all the primaries who still haven't forwarded all the relevant data, then spend the next six months chasing – be my guest. The fact remains that we haven't collected all the data on KS2 levels of our Year 7s and what we have got we haven't entered into our school management system.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 15:53

Perhaps this glitch in communications shows that the school was established too quickly.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 22:52

Hello Toby,

Isn't it wonderful when a teacher gives up their free time to run wonderfully inspiring sessions which stretch the academic abilities of teachers while exemplifying best teaching practice? I attended such a session last year on elliptic curves which totally refreshed me.

Isn't it wonderful when a teacher gives up their free time to write incredible teaching resources which they then share on the web for free and which I have personally used to great effect with my students.

Isn't it wonderful when a teacher then creates vidoes to explain those tasks and again shares them for free:

Perhaps you think it's impressive if a teacher spends years regularly contributing great teaching tasks to teachers journals - again for free - and also writes a column which poignantly describes the realities of teaching.

Ah no - you think -
"The tragic thing about the flight from excellence in our state schools is that teachers like this believe they’re acting in the best interests of their pupils." and you express your horror that such a person is a teacher.

Nice one Toby. Carefully researched and well judged as ever.

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 16:00

My understanding is that this glitch would apply to any new school, regardless of how long it took to set up.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 16:35

I thought this government's education policy was driven by results, data and stats? Odd that their flagship Free School is behind with analysing data already. I would imagine comps wouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

How many was Year 7 intake? Surely there can't be that many children to chase up? A couple of emails and phone calls would have done it, surely?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 25/02/2012 - 22:50

Oh for goodness sake Rupert Murdoch has decided to improve Britain's Sundays by educating the gullible with il Toadmeistorio's effluence of ignorance.

I'm beginning to wonder there is a total loss of the awareness that some people are asked to write columns because they are deeply respected by their peers and are experts in their fields, and actually do so reluctantly because they are quite shy and sensitive people who work in areas where speaking out makes them very vulnerable within a profession where they shine and which they given their entire career to.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 11:09

There is usually a cry of outrage and accusation of foul play from Toby Young and Free School supporters when the lack of transparency surrounding many aspects of Free Schools, from funding to consultation to admissions, are raised. Here, once again, is another serious example of how information is not forthcoming from the school but has had to be extracted, like a bad tooth, from the council. I am looking forward to seeing a response from Toby as to how WLFS has managed to pull off such an advantaged intake and perhaps an explanation why the headteacher did not hold the information.

Within this context of secrecy, the response so far – that “we don’t set much story by KS levels, hence don’t collect and record the data” – only compounds the suspicion that the school is concealing data that, when revealed, raises awkward questions about selection and admissions which might be at odds with WLFS’s insistence that is does not select and is an all-ability school. The “dark arts” of covert selection, however, sits very comfortably with the covert way in which the current government goes about its business.

Within the education department itself, Dominic Cummings took measures to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of Gove’s free schools policy. He told a senior civil servant: “NSN [New Schools Network] is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ [from people wishing to set up free schools] for PQs [parliamentary questions], FOIs [Freedom of Information requests] or anything else. Further, New Schools Network has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all.”

A recent FoI request addressed to WLFS asks for correspondence dating back to May 2010, between WLFS, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings, Henry de Zoete and Toby Young. The Head of WLFS, Thomas Packer, has responded by confirming that they DO hold correspondence between the school and those individuals but is withholding disclosure because the cost of gathering the information would far exceed the limit of £450. However, Packer has not complied with a duty to advise and assist the applicant in refining their request, so as to bring it within the bounds of the appropriate limit. He might now like to do so, for no better reason than to support Toby Young’s claim that the school has nothing to hide.

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 13:56

Henry, I have no idea whether the data is accurate or not, but if it is then our KS2 attainment levels are closer to the borough average than that of three of the neighbouring comprehensives. And they're maintained by the Local Authority. Our percentage of children on FSM is closer to the borough average than Stoke Newington School's. Nevertheless, I wouldn't conclude from this that you, as Chair of Governors, have engineered this. Sometimes these things just happen, as I'm sure you can testify.

You say this proves that the WLFS has had a negative impact on the neighbouring schools, but as has been pointed out before on this site we've sourced our pupils from a wide geographical area, thereby diluting any potential negative affect. I'd be curious as to whether the LBHF borough average KS2 levels for last year's Year 7 intake is lower than the previous year's – but without that data you're just speculating about the impact the WLFS has had on neighbouring schools.

Allan, perhaps you want to get busy with some FOI requests? I know just how much the local schools will appreciate having to devote valuable resources and man hours to dealing with them. Much better than actually teaching, isn't it?

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 16:28

Toby -

Thomas Packer's reason for not complying with the FoI request was more to do with cost, rather than man hours. Here is a section of his reply:-

"To give you an idea of the time/cost involved, I have received over 500 emails at my school email address from just one of the named individuals since the school opened in September 2011 and I estimate that I’ve received over twice as many on my home email from the same individual during the period from May 2010 – September 2011. If we assume that it would take a member of staff five minutes to deal with each email, the 18-hour limit would be exceeded after he/she had dealt with 216. Indeed, dealing with the approximately 1,500 emails I have received from this individual would take 125 hours at a cost to the school of £3,125. And remember, that doesn’t include any written correspondence between the named individual and me, my email replies to the individual concerned during the period covered or any of my correspondence with the three other named individuals. And, in addition to me, there are 10 other members of staff that your request applies to."

What is interesting is that there has been a mountain of correspondence between the school, Gove and his special advisers. If only the humble, old-style schools were lavished so much attention! Astonishing also is Packer admitting to another mountain of correspondence sent to and from his private email, but then such circumnavigation seems to be the practice of, and sanctioned by, central government.

It's news to me that teaching staff would have to abandon lessons in order to collate the information - does WLFS not have adequate support and admin staff to do this? Taking the moral high ground here does not exempt WLFS from having to comply - like all public authorities - with statutory requests. It is convenient that Packer can hide behind a cost exemption in order to refuse to disclose, but the fact remains that it is the school's duty to advise and assist the applicant in refining their request. Have you done this? Or are Free Schools above the law as well?

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 19:19

Toby, first can I acknowledge that you are right about the 3 comprehensives you're referring to. As we established in our tweet exchange, these (London Oratory, Lady Margarets and Sacred Heart) have 4% or less of prior low attainment. In huge contrast to Burlington Danes, Phoenix and others in the borough. Which probably explains why those three have GCSE results of 90%+. I don't know H&F well but it does sound like a very divided borough.

I don't doubt your sincerity in wanting an all ability school. But it could be that the way you've styled it leads to a different result?

We have agreed in the past that we are both fans of the Hackney approach. Could you be won over to their approach - of combining "fair banding" with LA-managed admissions, to ensure a fair spread and that no school can (deliberately or inadvertently) skew its admissions?

RWilliams's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 21:25

Most schools, and LA, use some form of management information system and so it shouldn't take make than a couple of minutes to email the requested data.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 16:44

What this thread emphasises is the importance of looking at intake when comparing schools especially as many schools labelled "comprehensive" have very few low attainers or have an ability range skewed towards the bottom. Other factors to consider are the number of disadvantaged pupils (FSM), the number of children with special needs (SEN) and the number of pupils for whom English is a Second Language.

But it doesn't end there because in 2011 for the first time pupils for whom English is a Second Language overtook native English speakers in GCSE exam achievement. So there is clearly a difference between those children who are fluent in both English and the language spoken at home, and those children who speak little English.

A further factor is how transient pupils are. A school where most of the pupils stay settled is likely to achieve better results than a school which copes with pupils moving in and out.

This shows just how crude the Government's bottom line benchmarks are, and how inflexible is the "No excuses" mantra. But it won't stop schools with a stable population, a smaller than average number of low attainers, a large number of pupils from supportive homes and a large proportion of children fluent in English (whether or not English is their first language) from boasting about how much better they are than the schools who cope with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils, transient pupils, special needs children, and children whose home circumstances are less likely to be supportive (and this can be for many reasons, not just neglect, but low income, illness and caring responsibilities).


Anton Daley's picture
Wed, 22/02/2012 - 20:49

At the end of the day, no one who has anything to do with education in this area will be at all surprised to see the figures in the original post. From the outset, the WLFS targeted a certain 'type' of family - through the methods in which the open sessions were publicised, to the "not for everyone" curriculum to the ludicrous comment by Katherine Birbalsingh (before she moved on to her own crusade to open a free school) that she "ran up and down the aisles at Iceland" to hand flyers out to make sure that the school had a diverse intake. All nonsense - it is what it is and the ridiculous comments from the Head and Toby Young about not having KS2 data is just embarassing.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 01:15

Come on Janet. This is really putting the cart before the horse

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 01:25

You know the role of the modern state is to use power with consent such as representative election, Peel Policing and medical consent. Here is a school with overwhelming consent. Here is your challenge, nominate an area of your life and describe the capable choice you are willing to give up for social utility. Drinking booze? Medical treatment? Employment type? Like choosing? So do the parents and children of WLFS.

"If you disagree please report to the Rockall citizen reeducation centre."

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 06:49

KS2 data is worthless lots of secondaries reassess yr 7 as soon as they arrive.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 08:56

It is true that most secondaries to their own assessment tests, but govt progress measures are based on attainment on entry judged by KS2 SATs. As far as I am aware free schools will also be judged by the same criteria. Are you seriously suggesting they ignore them altogether? Should be interesting when Ofsted arrives.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 12:12

Fiona is correct. The Key State 4 school performance tables now show an "expected progress" measure for low attainers, middle attainers, and high attainers in English and Maths. The progress is measured from KS2 levels. For example, a pupil who was at Level 3 on entry to secondary school is expected to gain a Grade D GCSE in English and Maths, and a Level 5 pupil is expected to gain at least a Grade B. The matrix for calculating the "progression measure" is on page 16 of DfE document linked below:


No state school will be exempt from this progression measures, so no school can ignore them even if it does its own assessment when pupils enter secondary school.

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 20:10

Is your only gripe is that WLFS might annoy some knucklehead fool from Ofsted or the government you evidently despise by not wasting time on data that is nearly always duked?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 22:58

I have an alternative gripe - see above.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 06:39

See above? Where exactly am I supposed to be looking?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 10:26

My only other comment on this thread.

You wanted to know if they only grip about Toby was that his school is positive selecting kids.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 17:11

gripe not grip!!! :-)

W Smith's picture
Sun, 26/02/2012 - 16:09

Toby - Why can't you just ask the children what levels they got in their SATS?
If they can't remember ( surprised if they can't) ask their parents what levels were written on their child's report at the end of Year 6. Simple!!!
Then when you have all of the data and decide that is is worthless and doesn't help you or the child then please write about it, shout about it and complain to Gove et al that the manipulation and misuse of data in our education system is wasting a lot of time and money.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.