Thursday, 27 May 2010

"Free" schools for Shepherd's Bush

The election of a Tory-LibDem Government means that the West London Free School, an initiative championed by media personality and local resident Toby Young, will almost certainly now go ahead. New Education Secretary Michael Gove has made it a priority to create as many such free schools as possible. What this means, basically, is parents being given the money to build or take over a school and run it themselves.

With a waiting list of 400 already up and running, despite the actual West London Free School being years off construction, the new school has already proved controversial with existing schools, as it will likely relegate them to second choices among many local parents. And despite the fact it is based over the border in Ealing it will be open in theory to parents over on our side of the local authority border too.

Toby Young says that this new school will be run on the same lines as a comprehensive, in the sense that it will not select pupils based on academic ability or the ability to pay. But he also says that the old comprehensive model was good at picking up the less able but pretty bad at supporting the more able - and that's what he wants to change with his new school. He says its based on this school in East Los Angeles, whose pupils come from deprived backgrounds and yet achieve over the odds.

Some local parents and traditionalist supporters of state education as it currently exists however fear that such a new school would be a needless diversion of valuable local resources away from existing schools. They have a point - this school would only be judged as a success or otherwise after a couple of generations had passed through - while the same generations of kids going to existing local schools suffer from resources being diverted away to fund the experiment next door.

But then how would we ever know if we don't try new approaches? Ironically Toby Young is the author of a book called How to lose friends and alienate people which judging by some of the comments I have already had about this school seems quite apt.

So - an interesting local experiment in education that could benefit our local kids and be of national importance or a costly diversion and needless meddling? Here's Toby Young, speaking to the Newsnight programme, on what his new School will mean for the kids of west London:

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