Hogwarts Vs Toby Young’s West London Free School...Battle of the Fantasies?

Sally Davenport's picture
I take it you, (like the thousands of others), read, ‘Is Toby ‘FrankenFreeSchoolstein’ Young Destined for PM Gove’s Ministry for Silly Education?’ If not, you can find it here.

Many discussions arose from this article, of which several frivolous comments punctured my psyche. Probably not what you would expect as they concerned the long gowns worn by the West London Free School teachers, to which it was remarked if pointy hats were worn then they might resemble staff at Hogwarts. I recognize that Hogwarts as a long established and highly successful school for wizards. But it’s also a pure fantasy created in the mind of its author. So sorry parents, buts there’s no point trying to buy a broomstick and moving into its catchment area. In contrast, Toby Young’s West London Free School is real. It has real students, real teachers and a real venue. But is this where the reality ends and the Tory fantasy begins?
So why did the Conservative Party decided to use a sizeable chunk of it recent TV party political broadcast focusing on the West London Free School? Maybe the Tories were desperate and didn’t have anything else to crow about? But still, why choose this school? Should we take it that the Tories wanted to vindicate and illuminate their educational reforms by using their perceived most efficacious Free School Super Star box office hit on the Broadway of Gove? But isn’t this West London Free school currently a tiny secondary school with only two small year groups. It has no track record, only one year of history and no real tangible results ,with the first GCSEs or EngBacs not to be taken for around another 4 years. The school’s founder, who is a minor celeb and self-proclaimed Tory, Toby Young, wrote that his school ‘is a bold experiment.’ So why dress-up this hypothetical mouse foetus of a school in a fake bear skin? Why pretend that the school might be an educational banquet of a feast when there’s a barely a translucent sinew on its minuscule bones? Are we the general public still seen by Tory elitists as numbskulls that need only to be impressed by just a couple of Hogwart-style gowns and kids muttering in Latin regardless of any facts? Are we really that gullible? Ask no questions and prostrate ourselves to the higher echelons of the Tory political class who by their birth know better than us?

Surely I’ve made a mistake and there’s more to this West London Free school or the Tories would have substituted it for one of the many of thousands of outstanding, established and high performing schools? But possibly, is the West London Free School at the beginning of something astounding with these schools opening up everywhere; on a street corner near you very soon? Hasn’t Toby Young declared that he wants to open a new free school every year? Is he the new Free School Caesar of the Govem Empire and might he have the Latin cry of, ‘Veni, vini, vici’? Have I not been given the impression by Mr Young from his numerous TV appearances, that his brand of Free Schools would be eventually ubiquitous? That he might create Latin speaking Free Schools through-out the country? Perhaps I am that numbskull I write of and I’ve totally misconstrued everything as I can’t see a gnat’s pee molecule of a Toby Young Free school beyond Hammersmith and Fulham. But I still don’t understand why the Tories used this school in their recent TV broadcast unless they wanted us to believe in an alleged Free School freak show fantasy?

But what happens if this potential Tory Free School fantasy continues unabated? Will Free School policy eventually follow the yellow brick road and rendezvous with a political dustbin, the size of the Blair Millennium dome? And what new fantasy potions do the Tories have for us brewing in their bubbling policy cauldron? Could ‘Free Hospitals’ or perhaps ’Free Prisons’ be probing their outlandish imaginations? One thing is for sure, I am not buying into this Tory fantasy and I’ll stick to reading the truly fantastic Harry Potter with my children.
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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 10:21

WLFS came from start up to become the most popular choice of secondary school in Hammersmith & Fulham in one year.

That would only happen if parents at nearby primaries were hearing very good reports on the grapevine. They must be doing something right.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 11:45

Last year when the oversubscription figures were published, 7 out of 8 state secondaries in Hammersmith and Fulham were also oversubscribed. Much was made of the 1,000+ applications for WLFS. However, when the Independent scratched the surface it found that only 250 of this 1,000+ had named WLFS as first choice. That's still a good figure - twice as many first choice applications as places. However, if the 1,000+ figure was obtained by counting every mention of WLFS whether it was named 2nd or 6th, then using the 1,000+ figure as a measure of popularity would be misleading (putting a school in 6th place, for example, is hardly an endorsement).

The reliability of over-subscription numbers which include every mention of a school in parental preferences instead of just first-choice mentions is highlighted on this thread:


It would also be interesting to know just how many pupils at WLFS are actually from Hammersmith and Fulham. A large number of out-of-borough pupils would appear to show that the demand from H+F parents is not large enough to ensure the school is filled with only children living in the borough.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 14:59

That’s still a good figure – twice as many first choice applications as places.

You are a mistress of understatement, Janet. It's a fantastic figure by inner-London standards. In my area, the best secondary (v.good and long established) got, I think, 313 first preferences for 218 places. To get a 2:1 ratio for only your second cohort is remarkable.

It would also be interesting to know just how many pupils at WLFS are actually from Hammersmith and Fulham.

Why? Free schools and academies don't "belong" to LAs any more. WLFS's three-mile catchment area probably crosses 4 different borough boundaries. London uses a common admissions system allowing parent to nominate choices in a number of boroughs.

I think Plan A was for the school to be in Ealing, but H&K proved more free school friendly.

Nevertheless, the fact that WLFS does use distance criteria from a point in Hammersmith and is doubly subscribed for first preferences would surely suggest that most successful applicants will live quite near the school.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 16:08

Ricky - please refer to my post 5/11/12 at 5.01pm to Mr Chas which referred to the WLFS first choice figure. I said this:

"That [figure] is, actually, something to be proud of with twice as many first-choice applications."

But apparently this figure is not enough. We are constantly told that WLFS was nine times oversubscribed (see example from the DT which appears to be quoting the DfE). There is quite a difference between twice as many and nine times as many.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 16:16

Ricky - re catchment areas. It doesn't follow that a popular school will be filled with pupils from the immediate area who are supposed to take precedence even when 10% of places are assigned to some kind of aptitude. Here's the Good School Guide on the issue:

"Not surprisingly, the real catchment is often at odds with the ‘official version’. While conventional wisdom says the catchment areas of the most popular state schools are measured in terms of feet, not miles, real catchment areas reveal surprising anomalies."

The Guide has this to say about popularity and schools:

"A school’s popularity is often like the stock market: dependent on psychology and mob behaviour, rather than intrinsic value."


Sally Davenport's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 15:16

So Ricky, we can justify a fantasy if enough people believe its real and it is sufficiently popular? This all reminds me of the pop duo 'sensation' Milli Vanilli who were for a year the world's most popular music act until the public got bored and learnt the truth. Now, I'm not making the analogy that the West London Free School is the equivalent of Milli Vanilli. I'd prefer to compare the whole Free School policy to the Milli Vanilli although maybe the West London Free School is more like Right Said Fred?
But if we are going to move on to the pathetic bragging rights that popularity alone justifies a recently opened school being verysuccessful then I'm going to continue to be stupid, (after all we are discussing Free Schools), and remember, I've confessed to being a numbskull.
So to prove Ricky's point, what if JK Rowling did actually set up a Hogwart-Style Free School and made its staff wear pointy hats? Or what if Simon Cowel and Tulisa, (from the very popular XFactor) opened up a Free School and they made 2009 winner, little Geordie Joe McElderry its chairman, (with Joe hypothetically using the Free School issue as his own personal vehicle for milking the media circuit, boosting his flagging profile, getting his own newspaper column and generally raking thousands in fees)? I'd think both these new Free Schools would be amazingly popular with parents living in shoe boxes outside the school gates to get their kids in? Certainly would make Mr Young's school's popularity look very tame in comparison. I leave you with a Youtube link called, 'Don't Believe the Hype". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix62PttEfhU

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 16:14


I'm not quite clear where you find the 'fantasy' element at WLFS. As you admit, it's a real school with real students and real teachers. Most of those teachers seem to have appropriate experience and qualifications. No lip-synching, no mime, no deception that I can see.

You associate academic dress with Hogwarts. Others might associate it with Forty Years On. I suppose it depends on your reading age.

Teachers wearing gowns may strike you as silly. But surely not half as silly as barristers and judges wearing wigs? For better or for worse, we live in a country with some eccentric traditions and where a lot people like dressing up in daft costumes. Get over it.

Unless you have any actual evidence that students at WLFS are failing to make progress in their learning, all your sneering comes over as raw prejudice.

Sally Davenport's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 17:07

Hi Ricky, Deeply dipply about your comments but kiddie after-schools clubs beckon and I need to practice my 'sneer'. So will get back to you. In the meantime Ricky, don't...don't...don't believe the (tory free school) hype!! x

Sally Davenport's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 21:38

Ironically, I think I've injected too much creditability into Free School Policy by linking it to Milli Vanilli, X Factor and Right Said Fred.

In response Ricky, I didn't write that my preferred analogy of WLFS was Milli Vanilli. I thought Right Said Fred might be more appropriate but now I'm erring on Bros. What do you think?

But seriously, my concerns on the issue of fantasy should focus on the whole Tory Free School policy and the alleged propaganda being used to portray it as already successful. Again, why was Tory Toby Young's Free School used in the Tory's recent TV broadcast to highlight supposed Free School success? ? I'll rule out the wearing of long retro wizard gowns as justification so was it solely because of the WLFS's initial popularity with parents, surely not? Or might it be because these Toby Young schools are amazingly opening-up all over the country? But as I've said, I can't see not a molecule of gnat's pee for one of these schools opening outside of Hammersmith or Fulham. Maybe it is difficult or impossible to set-up a school where you have a lack of well-connected friends and philanthropists to assist? So is there any real success yet for of any of these experimental Free Schools to crow about?

Also, I've never criticised the long garments worn at WLFS. In fact I said the comments regarding the garb were 'frivolous'. I particularly don't care what they wear, even if they wear Star Trek outfits although I wouldn't be surprised if a Star Trek Free School opens up with compulsory Trek trivia lessons until year 9. What I do find outrageous, given the gravity of BSF being scrapped and the Education budget shrunk, is money still available for these new experimental Free Schools. It is all bloomin BONKERS!!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 12:42

Sally - you might not have read these earlier threads about free schools. The first describes the controversy surrounding some of the free schools that opened this September. The second highlights a BBC investigation which found that about a quarter of these free schools are significantly underscribed.

I didn't see the Party Political Broadcast - did it mention the problems surrounding the free schools? Or did it just pretend the policy was an unequivocal success?

I suspect it was the latter, but what can you expect from a Government who consistently used misleading data to justify its policies? Fortunately, the UK Statistics watchdog has expressed concerns about the DfE use of this data (third link below) although, strangely, this concern hasn't been widely publicised.




Andy V's picture
Tue, 06/11/2012 - 17:03

I fall on the side of the best education that state funded schools can provide no matter what it's label is. To be clear about it, I'm firmly and squarely on the side of the pupils and helping prepare them for their future.

Yes, I am uneasy where any new school start-up is in an area already served by good/outstanding schools and there is neither surplus nor forecast shortfall of places. No, I am not concerned if the start-up is in an area served by satisfactory/coasting/underpeforming provision.

Personally, providing staff dress to respect their modesty I really don't care what they wear - least of all if that requires apposite garb to reflect more formal occasions: be that weekday assembly, parents evenings, prize giving etc. For the record I attended a Secondary Modern and the teachers wore cap and gown for prescribed events; and that predated Hogwarts by some years (nay decades) ...

There again bearing in mind that the rationale for this site/forum is the perpetuation of the 'traditional' comprehensive school system, should speaking rhetorically one can hardly be surprised when this type of straw man thread is posted.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 11:11


I thought Right Said Fred might be more appropriate but now I’m erring on Bros. What do you think?

Beats me. I don’t do pop-culture.

why was Tory Toby Young’s Free School used in the Tory’s recent TV broadcast…?

Probably because it was an example of a manifesto pledge actually being delivered.

I can’t see not a molecule of gnat’s pee for one of these schools opening outside of Hammersmith or Fulham.

I’m not sure what you mean by this remark. Do you literally mean there are no other free schools chaired by Toby Young? Or do you mean that you haven’t noticed all the other secondary phase free schools generally? If the latter, there really are quite a few. See Greenwich Free School; Reach Academy, Feltham; Bristol Free School; Perry Beeches II, Birmingham; London Academy of Excellence (6th form only); IES Breckland; Stour Valley Community School, Suffolk; Beckett Keys, Essex; … or for a style of pedagogy that contrasts with WLFS, try School21, Newham.

That wasn't an exhaustive list, just the ones that have crossed my radar in some way and that I remember.

Last time I looked, a total of 79 free schools had opened during the past two years. Most were primaries, but I guess the secondaries probably take a bit longer to set up and are only now beginning to filter through in significant numbers. 114 more free schools have been approved for opening in 2013.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 11:16

oh look, here's another one:

Wapping High School


Sally Davenport's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 13:33

RickY my love,

Its a, "little ironic, don't you think?" that you don' do popular culture although you base the Tory flagship Free School's success on it's alleged popularity? AND I, "don't believe it!" for one moment that you don't do any pop-culture unless you a lonely trog living in cave under one of the many under subscribed experimental Free Schools funded by us the tax payer in these austere times. Maybe you should try a little pop-culture and boogie on down to what us common people think when our local comprehensives are underfunded, and denied their BSF money with the knowledge that 'Come Dine With Me' contestants get millions to open up schools in a 'bold experiment'.

'Not a molecule of gnat's pee', relates specifically to Toby Young's West London Free Schools being only based in Hammersmith and Fulham. Hardly an almighty expanding empire/McChain of Free Schools is it?. And thanks for the list of Free Schools. Would like me to provide you with a list of outstanding, established high performing comprehensive schools? If you do, it might take me some time to prepare given the thousands there are!

Its great to debate with you, RickY x

P.S. Janet I just love you and your wonderful comments. Keep it up!!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 15:08

Sally - thanks for the compliment. You might be interested in this article from the Times Ed (TES) dated 17 October 2010. It describes how a high-profile, soon-to-be free school pioneer, broadcast inaccurate information about a local secondary school which left the staff feeling "disappointed and devalued." The head said the staff were doing "a fantastic job. And in terms of students I don’t think it is nice for anyone to feel your school is being talked down.”


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 15:22

Sally - you probably already know that the TES announced Toby Young's plans to open a chain of schools just a few days after WLFS opened in September 2011. It appears that some people are a little behind the times if they think Young only announced the proposal just under a week ago.


Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 00:19

I find hard to describe how this makes me feel although there was steam coming out of ears. It's shameful and really makes me almost feel melancholic, once I've calmed down.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 07:52

“It is the ethos and the curriculum of Acton High School that I don’t particularly like. Schools are now required to indoctrinate children with positive social values.”

I assume from this that Mr Young stands 4-square against the Conservative concept of the 'Big Society'. I also deduce from his quote that he'd much prefer schools to exercise an ethos of anarchic values or perhaps one espousing personal greed or just exercises in pointless valueless learning by rote and obedience.

As a journalist might Mr Young be a follower of one media tycoon called Murdoch who also fails to see the benefits of nurturing positive social values.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 08:55


Thanks for that link. The TES article on Acton High is most revealing. Particularly the bit that says 20 students are doing ....ahem..... Latin GCSE.

With all the sneering and fuss made about WLFS teaching Latin, and the conspiracy theories about Latin being used as a ruse to put off all but the middle-class, it's important context that the bog standard comp down the road does it too.

And seemingly, without being pilloried or parodied for doing so.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 09:16

Sally - You will also have noted that the local secondary school offered Latin to some of its pupils via the internet. This rather gives the lie to the assertion that state secondary schools weren't offering Latin - this school was doing it before WLFS was established with an allegedly unique selling point - Latin.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 00:14

Thank you Janet x

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 08:12

Andy - we mustn't forget that Toby Young equates "inclusivity" with being forced to provide wheelchair ramps and described an exam system which catered for low attainers as well as high fliers as being one able to be taken by a "functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of 6."

And a few weeks later he said he would introduce corporal punishment (although not for the girls) into his school if the law allowed him to do it.

These views would be laughable were it not for the fact that he's a governor of a school.



Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 07/11/2012 - 14:51

Hardly an almighty expanding empire/McChain of Free Schools is it?

It seems Toby Young first voiced his aspiration to open further free schools (i.e. in addition to WLFS and its proposed new primary) just under one week ago.

So it's a little soon to expect any of them to be open, isn't it?


Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 00:12


You’ve made a bit of a booboo on this, so what condiments do you want to go with the eating your hat, washed down with a mug of Free School Soda Alum froth? Do some research my darling into Mr Young’s alleged boasting and his supposed desires to have an Empire/ McChain of experimental Free Schools. It sure aint been just in the last week, just look what our angel Janet Downs has on record. But I am told that there is every chance of a West London Free School already outside Hammersmith. Yes, that’ s right under the laws of quantum physics, there’s every chance of a Toby Free School out there somewhere, maybe in another universe, which makes me wonder what galaxy are those behind Free School policy living in.

I would like to reiterate from my previous story, ‘Is Toby ‘FrankenFreeSchoolstein’ Young Destined for PM Gove’s Ministry for Silly Education’, the following:
If you switch on the television, Mr Young often pops-up giving the alleged impression that we may be treated to more high achieving Toby schools opening up, perhaps in a town near you? Could we be treated to more of his schools opening up similar to a large well-known expanding ubiquitous fast-food chain? Could his school’s curriculum be akin to a burger and fries set-meal with gimmick toy? The West London Free School brags of a set meal of academia and strong discipline with the gimmick (for the 21st century), being compulsory Latin? So where are all these experimental Toby Young Free Schools? Are they simply in the pipeline, waiting to spring-up everywhere and teach the teachers how schools should operate? No, I can’t see any mention of them on the West London Free School website or Young’s vainglorious webpage. Not even a small metaphorical hotdog stand or coffee booth of a Toby school is proposed outside of Hammersmith. So is the Toby Young Free School experiment faltering already? Can his school only operate where alleged London philanthropists and well-connected local friends can volunteer their services to make his experiment come alive in the laboratory of Dr FrankenFreeschoolstein? Or is Mr Young’s focus now on entering politics and the supposed novelty and ambition of creating more West London Free Schools starting to wear off?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 08:44

No, Sally.

The TES story Janet links to does not contain the "one new free school every year" aspiration we were discussing. It evidenced a rather more vague and inchoate ambition:

"I hope it is (a success). It would be great to try to open schools in other parts of London and elsewhere in the country," he said. Mr Young added that there was no timeframe for when he would establish the schools

Since then he has founded (but not yet opened) a primary.

The only report of the one-a-year remark I can find was dated 1 November 2012.

Frankly, I am surprised Mr Young has the time, the energy or the money to do more. His book tells how he had to more or less give up work and spend the best part of two years unpaid on setting-up WLFS, ending up totally knackered.

Does Mrs Young know he plans to do it all again, I wonder?

Sons of high-achieving fathers really are driven, aren't they?

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 09:47

Good morning Ricky,

You are right, two years unpaid setting-up a free school. What a hero, bless his little cotton socks! The personal suffering, the hardship!! Come off it!!!

Now we are know that I am silly,(but not as silly as Free School Policy),so what's your thoughts an any celeb jumping on the free school fantasy media gravy train and gulping down those numerous juicy media fees that go with the ride. Then jumping off, (when it gets all too boring and difficult when trying to set up another school away from rich&well connected friends), for a new job swimming with Tory chums in a cash-rich gravy pool called politics and milking the media again for some delicious fees? Am I cynical or what? Luckily, I've been practising that sneer you spoke about.

And Ricky.... research, research, research. Don't just base your response on one TES article. If you do some basic 'research' then you will know you are wrong and I will have to buy you some cheesy sauce to go with your hat.

Bon appetit

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 11:03

Sally - you're right about the importance of research and evidence. That's why my posts are riddled with links - readers can check the research for themselves and judge whether my opinions based on that evidence are justified or not. It also ensures that I'm not just making stuff up by "quoting" something that can't be checked.

And talking of checking, here's a link to a thread which lists ten examples of how the DfE has been less than economical with the truth. It was published before the UK Statistics Authority expressed "concern" about the use by the DfE of the 2000 PISA results for the UK which were later found to be flawed. This data was not just misused by the DfE but by Cameron, assorted Tory MPs, Sir Michael Wilshaw, sundry reports including the maths report chaired by Carol Vorderman, and most of the media (including Toby Young who usually manages to add an extra Eastern European country to the number of such countries who "beat" the UK in the 2009 PISA league table).


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 10:24

Sally, I reckon you need to research "juicy media fees". Seems the meejah are totally, but totally, broke. Even the BBC, which has a guaranteed income from extortion, only pays interviewees on its flagship news and current affairs programmes 35 quid a pop these days.

35 quid? That might buy you a lot of fairy cakes, Sal.
But I seriously doubt if it would buy Toby Young lunch.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 15:41


Remind me to whip-up a triple -cheesy heart-warming batter to dip your hat in!!

Will get back to you. xx

Sally Davenport's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:14


Seeing as you know of certain lunchtime habits, any chance I can ask you to be Poiseidon and release the West London Cetus (Kraken), on to this discussion page? He's been on the LSN before so let's be havin' him. It would be great read his views and his defence of the Tory Free School fantasy. x

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 13:37

Free school opening rates actual and planned from DfE website

2011 – 24
2012 – 55
2013 – 102

Only one of the above is the West London Primary School.

By the way a 'free prison' or 'free hospital' could be said to be very similar concept to some of our PFI facilities. Certainly some of the PFI prisons (Design Construct Manage Finance) are. They continued to operate under a Labour government when we had the Chancellor of Silly Money. Some of them actually did a good job according to the NAO;

The Operational Performance of PFI Prisons, NAO, 2003

PS could you write a piece about Peter Hyman's School 21, just for balance?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 14:34

And controversy surrounds some of the free schools: undersubscribed, not needed, problems with the school adjudicator, and the New Schools Network appears confused as to their purpose. The links are below in case you've forgotten:





Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 15:09

Ben – PFI and procurement are not the subjects of this thread.

But since you have brought it up (other readers can turn away now), the NAO report you cite is nine years out-of-date. At the time the NAO said:

“We tested the hypothesis that PFI will deliver price certainty for departments and timely delivery of good quality assets; our census of projects generally supported the hypothesis, though it is not possible to judge whether these projects could have achieved these results using a different procurement route.”

Note: it was not possible for the NAO to judge at that time (2003) whether different procurement routes could have achieved the same results.


Since that time PFI has proved ruinously expensive. One such project is the new Peterborough City Hospital - the NAO is investigating the circumstances surrounding the awarding of the contract.

As you know, the NAO has published a report about the risks as well as the opportunities in providing public services through market mechanisms (subject of earlier thread).


Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 08/11/2012 - 18:40


Here is why PFI and procurement are relevant.

Sally writes;

"Could ‘Free Hospitals’ or perhaps ’Free Prisons’ be probing their outlandish imaginations?"

They kind of already exist because of PFI under some of its guises. Some PFI is good some is bad. Check out the NAO report: some of the private prisons innovated and did better than the public service in terms of relations between staff and prisoners. This practice was shared between the public and private sector by staff rotation.

We should ditch the bad if it can't improve with help and keep the good. This should equally apply to public services in public possession.

In the case of WLFS we have already what looks like a very successfully procured school. It is a sort of public private hybrid but it would be inaccurate to describe it as a privatised company free to trade and make profits. It is constrained from doing that from various ways in law.

Not all free schools will succeed. This is explicitly acknowledged by Toby Young.

I don't think Sally can understand free schools because she does not understand the function of taking risks in improving public services. I am not sure she can understand the insidious risk present right now in existing services. Today there are schools people don't want to go to and which are also professionally assessed as not good.

It's also a consent issue seeing as we are a democracy.

Otherwise can I take it you will only be voting for the coalition parties of government in perpetuity? Are lack of choice and the risk of doing nothing values you are prepared to live?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:23

Ben - I did check out the NAO report. I even provided a link which you did not. It is, as I said, nine years old. The NAO produced a more up-to-date report on PFI in April 2011. The summary said:

"The case for using private finance in public procurement needs to be challenged more, given the spending watchdog’s previous analysis that the cost of debt finance has increased since the credit crisis by 20 per cent to 33 per cent. Also, under the national accounting rules, privately financed projects will often still be off balance-sheet which may continue to act as an incentive to use PFI. The NAO concludes that, in the current climate, the use of private finance may not be as suitable for as many projects as it has been in the past."


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:28

Ben - you say WLFS "looks like a very successfully procured school". As you seem to be in the know, could you shed some light on why Apollo, the group who refurbished the temporary buildings for WLFS and who won the £7 million contract for its permanent home, has left the contract? I thought it was because the company said the work can’t be done for that amount nor can it be done on time.

Perhaps you could tell us which company is now engaged to do the work, the cost of the contract and whether the timescale is the same as originally intended.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:54

I think you'll find Wilmott Dixon are the builders. It's supposed to be ready by September 2013.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 12:30

So we've established that Wilmott Dixon are the contractors who stepped in after Apollo allegedly left because they couldn't keep to the budget or do the refurbishment for WLFS's permanent buildings in the allotted timescale (I'm waiting for confirmation from Ben about why Apollo left the project). But we've still got no information about whether the cost has risen or not, or whether Wilmott Dixon expect to complete by 2013, or whether they've pushed the timescale further into the future.

Construction Manager believes that free schools can offer a profitable revenue source” for the building industry. However, there’s a warning towards the end of the article which pointed out that free schools – “often low-value complex refurbishments” - can be risky because of “surprises”, “slip-ups and over-runs”. A consultant said contractors could find it difficult to make projects “stack up financially” and projects below £5 million should be looked at carefully.


Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 13:12

A company called Keepmoat has bought Apollo from the looks of things.

Not sure exactly what the facts are.


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 12:39


Capital projects for free schools are undertaken by EFA (formerly PfS). I can't see why you are so interested in the contractual minutiae. A building project managed by EFA is a building project, whether it's for a free school, an academy or whatever.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 13:35

Indeed so, Ben. Or more precisely, Keepmoat and Apollo merged. The Apollo name was dropped and the new entity trades as Keepmoat. The merged outfit went through a re-structuring during the course of this year, with 200+ redundancies. Then, after only a few months, the new Chief Exec of Doncaster-based Keepmoat upped and quit. All this might well have contributed to Apollo/Keepmoat leaving the project. But apart from Janet, who cares?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 13:37

Ben - thanks. I didn't know that Apollo had merged with Keepmoat. Of course, what we still don't know is the cost of the new contract which was described in this trailer for an article as "tight" (the article is only available to paid subscribers).

So it appears that the contract wasn't such a "successfuly procured school" if the original contractor bowed out citing cost/timescale and the new contract isn't available. Perhaps, like the Public Accounts Committee told the BBC, many procurement projects are rushed through without "due diligence".


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 13:47

I reckon the Capital Projects team at EFA might just have more knowledge and experience of construction contracts than even you do, Janet.

Boots’ head of Storecare Michael Green has been appointed as the new director of capital for the Education Funding Agency, which will replace Partnerships for Schools in April.

Mr Green, who was selected by a panel which included EFA chief executive designate Peter Lauener and chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, will oversee £4.5 billion of capital projects in 2012, including the Priority School Building Programme and academies.

Mr Green, currently the head of StoreCare at Alliance Boots Property, has previously worked for civil engineering contractors including Mowlem, AF Budge and Thyssen.

He has more than a decade of experience leading multi-site construction programmes for Boots, as well as responsibility for all aspects of maintaining the company’s estate of more than 3,000 buildings nationwide.


Sally Davenport's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:03

Ben, When I called myself a 'numbskull', I didn't want you to take it that literally!

When I wrote of, 'Free Prisons and Fee Hospitals', then the blinking bloomin boring obvious was P.F%#$%$#.I but save that for another forum,not here. But I was bathing my puerile bathos with the thought of celebs, like those in the Australian jungle, (popular culture RickY!), setting up there own prisons in disused Woolworths stores or, (WOW, I've just had a great idea, (eat your heart out Mr Gove)), creating NHS hospitals in prisons and rehabilitating the prisoners and saving a ton of our cash by using the prisoners to staff the hospital! Genius or what?

According to Ben, school policy should be based on 'risk'! Don't worry about all those existing high performing schools passing on their ethos and methodology. So see how you feel Ben if your kids go to a one of your very risky new schools set up by for example by a 'celeb', and your kids after 5 years out not being able to string a sentence together. Bad luck, get your kids into a PFI funded time machine and try again. RISK!?

So Ben, should we see Free Schools as an expensive taxpayer funded 'survival of the fittest' Darwinian style experiment? Or to be even more controversial, can Free School policy be seen to more on the lines of Galtonian eugenics? We are not dealing with bacteria in a petri dish, these are our children.... Discuss

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 10:31


One thing you have failed to grasp about these free schools - actually they are not run by celebs, tabloid journalists, the cast of Star Trek or any other such nonsense. They are run by heads and boards of governors, just like any other school.

I can't honestly see a huge difference between say, Fiona Millar, and Toby Young being chairs of boards of governors. Both have a background in the intersection of media/politics. There's a school in south London chaired by John O'Farrell, the stand-up comedian (and by most accounts he's done a good job). Can't see the problem really. It takes all sorts. The whole point of having independent governors is that they can bring perspectives from outside the ranks of professional educators.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 13:10

There are maintained schools where now today children leave not sufficiently numerate and literate. This answers the question about risk.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 14:08

Sally - you'll know when you've made a point that hits home when someone calls you "silly", or "ridiculous", sneers at your posts, attacks you with a generalised OTT statement backed up with no evidence, asks rhetorical questions such as "Are lack of choice and the risk of doing nothing values you are prepared to live?", tries to deflect the thread towards a different topic, or patronises you with a statement like, "Michael Gove knows a little bit more about education than you do, Sally."

That's when you know you're on to something.

Arthur Vikram's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 17:04

'The simple solution is to allow those who already have schools performing at high levels to have more power in driving up standards.'

That (in the teeth of minority opposition) is exactly what is happening:

“It’s a strange thing that you can select for any specialism you like, and everyone thinks that’s great. You can select for a ballet school, or for a music college, but if you say, ‘We’d like a school that specialises in the more academic end of the scale,’ then that’s forbidden except in those places where it already exists.”

'A law passed by Labour in 1998 and upheld by the coalition prevents the founding of further selective schools;

existing schools, however, are permitted to create “annexes” or “satellites” that allow them to expand on to new sites and into different areas.

In effect, you can start what is a new selective school without having to call it one by name. Such expansion plans are already in train in Kent and Devon.....

The solution to underperformance among poorer children, Brady argues, is an education system with more selection, not less.

“In my view, it’s about the quality of the other schools. There’s something tragically British in the way we approached this when the postwar settlement was implemented. If the weakness was the secondary moderns, it was tragic that what we did was abolish most of the grammar schools rather than improve the quality of the secondary moderns.”....

Brady’s frustration with this inertia is palpable. “The logic of what the government is doing with education – and I very strongly endorse it – is actually to transfer the power and the choice away from the government and give it far more genuinely to communities and parents to choose the kind of schools they want.” He pauses. “It’s in that context that it is more perverse than ever that the government then prohibits [one of the choices].”

“These arguments sometimes get trapped in particular parts of the political spectrum,” he says. “There’s this paradox that it was the left in British politics that did so much to remove opportunities for a quality free education from working-class people who had no other alternatives. There is no reason why that should be a left-right argument.

“If anything, it should be the left in British politics that would perhaps be more concerned about the presence of a very good and high-quality independent sector and less concerned about the availability of very good, highly academic state schools that you can attend regardless of your ability to pay. I think the left got trapped in the wrong end of that discussion.”


Andy V's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 16:13

Janet: I understand the point you are making but feel that it is fraught with danger insofar if accepted per se it assumes Kantian style imperative nature, which would be quite false because there are time when some contributions are just plain irrational, illogical or just silly and if some one points this out that cannot be used to then say, 'there you are the attack on the contribution validates it as being accurate'.

Some comments are just plain silly as are some counter comments. :)

Andy V's picture
Fri, 09/11/2012 - 17:38

Arthur: There is a wonderfully sharp irony in the comparison your comment embraces. That is to say, a group of modern educationalist have setup a web forum to effective say there a marked percentage of Comprehensives that are failing so lets sweep away all Grammars and Independent/Private schools to bring about change. Whereas in the 70's the clarion call was that there were a marked number of Secondary Moderns .failing so lets scrap them along with Grammars and replace them with a new 'inclusive' Comprehensive system.

If it wasn't such a tragic image of British education it might warrant a smile.

The heart of the matter must surely be the educational opportunites and experience of the pupils not the type of state funded school they attend - be it a Comprehensive with an academic or alternative specialism, an Academy, Free School or Grammar. It's about time we put the future first via our youngster and set the politics aside.


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