Controversial West London Free School founder Toby Young has launched an extraordinary attack in the Telegraph on the claims made by Andy Slaughter on this blog in his weekly update to Bushers. Mr Young has clearly had enough of Mr Slaughter and decided to call him an untrustworthy liar - presumably therefore removing any chance the two of them ever had to have a rational debate.
Here's what the furious Mr Young had to say in full - what do you think? I'll feature Andy's presumably swift response here too.
I’m writing to you to express my disappointment about the manner in which you’re campaigning against the West London Free School. Nothing wrong with your decision to oppose the school. I was hoping you’d be more sympathetic, given that the classical liberal education on offer at our school will be similar to the education you received at the fee-paying Latymer Upper School. It seems you’re not in favour of extending the opportunities you enjoyed to local children from less privileged backgrounds, but that is your right.
As I say, it’s not the fact that you’re opposing our school that I’m objecting to, but the form that opposition takes. In the House of Common on Monday, for instance, you claimed the West London Free School had begun “enrolling pupils” in spite of the fact that our “consultation is not complete”. You’re right to point out that our consultation is ongoing, but wrong to say we’ve started enrolling pupils. As you know, we’ve received 445 applications for 120 places this September, but we won’t be offering any of those applicants places until 1st March, subject to the outcome of our consultation. And those applicants won’t be enrolled until they’ve accepted those places. This is perfectly proper and above board and to suggest that our Academy Trust is acting otherwise is inaccurate, to put it mildly.
Last month, you made an equally misleading claim in the House of Commons when you said that “most” of the children at the West London Free School will “come from outside the borough”. How can you possibly know that when we haven’t enrolled any pupils yet? Given that approximately half the children at the school will be admitted on the basis of proximity and the majority of the other half via a lottery within a three-mile radius, that seems unduly pessimistic.
You followed up with a blog on LabourList (‘When a Free School Comes to Town’) in which you said the West London Free School had only ended up in Hammersmith and Fulham because the neighbouring boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow and Brent had “said no”. This, at least, was a milder version of what you’d said in an earlier piece in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle in which you claimed these boroughs had given our school the “boot”. Not only is this statement untrue – we have never asked any of the neighbouring local authorities if they’d consent to establishing our school in their boroughs – it’s a non sequitur. As you know, free schools don’t require local authority consent. You’ve invented a hurdle we have to get over and then falsely claimed that we failed to get over it.
I have to confess to being shocked that a member of Parliament should have such little regard for the truth, but these statements were nothing compared to the claim in your most recent constituency newsletter. The West London Free School, you said, is “ousting … a school for severely disabled children in its rush to open”. Presumably, this is a reference to the fact that we’ve enlarged our consultation to allow for the possibility that our school may temporarily be located in the Cambridge School, a facility that’s currently used by special needs children. As you well know, we did this at the request of the Headmistress and Board of Governors of the Cambridge School who wrote to us to tell us they’d prefer to be in the Bryony Centre, which the Council had initially proposed as our temporary site. Earlier this week, the Chair of Governors wrote a follow-up letter in which she said: “The Governing body of Cambridge School would like to thank you unreservedly for your understanding and positive action in supporting the changes to the West London Free School consultation document.” A strange letter for her to write if, as you say, we’re “ousting” her school from its current site. In fact, we’re bending over backwards to do what’s right for the children in her school.
In spite of all the lies you’ve already told, Mr Slaughter, I didn’t think you’d stoop so low as to exploit people’s sympathy for disabled children in an attempt to discredit our school.
What’s so disappointing about all this is that we could be having a perfectly calm and reasonable debate. I would happily meet you in a public forum to discuss the matter in a sensible way. If you’re worried about the impact of our school on the borough’s neighbouring school, let’s talk about that. If you think our admissions policy won’t capture enough Hammersmith and Fulham residents, I’d be more than happy to discuss that. You may have decided that the classical liberal education you received is no longer suitable for the 21st Century. Let’s debate that, too. I’m all for a vigorous exchange of views. But instead of engaging in this sort of rational exchange, you’ve decided to invent reasons to oppose our school. Why poison the atmosphere with this unending stream of lies and smears? Have you so little regard for the democratic process? Are you so convinced that you would lose the argument if you stuck to the facts?
Please, Mr Slaughter, have some regard for the dignity of your office and the trust that’s been placed in you by the people of Hammersmith. Let them know what the real issues are instead of deliberately misleading them. However passionately you feel about free schools, using disabled children as a political weapon is beneath you. I’m sure that, in your heart of hearts, you’re a better man than that.