Thursday, 15 March 2012

Labour: West London Free School a success

Andrew Adonis
A former Labour education Minister has condemned those in his own ranks who oppose the idea of Free Schools as "mad", and points out that the West London Free School in Hammersmith is an example of a high quality school that is pushing up the bar of quality education while responding to local need.

Writing in the New Statesman Mr Adonis claims simply that Free Schools were in fact Labour policy, it's just that the Tories decided to give them a new name - "Free School" instead of "Academy" - and carry them on anyway. And he should know, he was the architect of Labour's education policies for most of the time of the last Government.

One of the key strengths of the schools, he argues, is their strong link with parents who in many cases actually set them up. This is what he says about our own West London Free School:
"parent groups can be highly effective sponsors, as is proving the case with the West London Free School, established by the journalist Toby Young and fellow parents in Hammersmith. Having visited WLFS, I say simply that Labour would be mad to propose to abolish it. The quality of teaching and leadership is very good, and the intake reflective of the local community. Tellingly, several of the parent-promoters are also teachers. 
"WLFS, together with the nearby Hammersmith Academy, a free school established under Labour and sponsored jointly by the Information Technologists' Company and the Mercers' livery company (which also sponsors the outstanding Thomas Telford city technology college in Shropshire), are new model community comprehensives helping to redress the large outflow of Hammersmith children to private schools and to state schools outside the borough. It is especially bizarre that WLFS has been criticised for teaching Latin. Why should children have to go to private schools such as the Latymer Upper School next door, with its fees of £15,000 a year, to learn Latin? And why should we accept that children are unable to learn Latin in the state system and, therefore, that classicists entering top universities overwhelmingly come from public schools"?
That last reference will be a sting in the tail for our MP, Andy Slaughter, who is frequently pillloried by his Conservative opponents in the borough for having attended Latymer Upper School and yet opposed West London Free School. The charge being, presumably, that he shouldn't seek to prevent other kids receiving the same high quality education as he did.

In fairness to Mr Slaughter he has said he wishes the school well now that it is a fixture in the borough, but the venom of the political debate on the issue is not likely to disappear any time soon. Not least because the pugnacious Toby Young rarely misses an opportunity to engage in some verbal street fighting on the issue.

After I reported in January last year that Mr Young was the "evictor in chief" of the charities formerly housed in Palingswick House in Hammersmith, which was sold to the school by our Council, he asked for a right of reply which I published here. The location of the school was just one of the many objections thrown at it at the time.

Politics aside, I am a local parent too and have heard mainly good things about the school - from people who have kids there and from others who want their kids to go there. These are not politicians or people with axes to grind one way or another, they're just local people who want the best for their children. And their voices have often been drowned out by the loudspeakers of others.

I have met Mr Adonis on several occasions and in my view he was always one of the most considered and clearly thoughtful Ministers in the Government, which is presumably why he was elevated to a senior position by Tony Blair ahead of the envious ranks of others. This, and the fact that he was once - shock horror - a member of another party, always meant that he was subjected to lots of tribalism from some of his fellow Labour peers, and I suspect this article will provoke more of the same. But Labour would be very foolish indeed not to listen to somebody who knows very much what he is talking about.

Fortuna ad schola! 


  1. I think that you may find "Mr Adonis" is an unfair understatement of his title...

    I don't see the problem with Free Schools, personally.

  2. I agree. I couldn't care less what the genesis of a school is as long as it provides a good education.

    Seems to me that a lot of the people who so object to free schools do so in the belief that the current state system works perfectly. It doesn't - it needs vast improvement. We tried pumping in millions under Labour. That didn't work... let's see what these free schools can do. The waiting lists suggest that parents think they might indeed work.

  3. My Name Isn't "Gerald" (true fact, but you can use it to identify me)15 March 2012 at 15:31

    (I'm the original Anonymous poster)

    I disagree wholeheartedly with the provision of a state education, and think that privatisation of school-age education is a BAD idea.

    That's why I think that it's important that Free Schools and Academies are closely monitored. None of us really want "The Coca-Cola Sports Free School" or the "McDonalds Specialist Maths College", but inviting in private firms who have a proven or provable ability to engage pupils through more professional, more stimulating lessons, resources and technology should be encouraged.

    More-so, schools which are able to gain the support and input of specialist firms (e.g. those working in the tech industry, the finance industry, the mechanics industry, media companies, etc) are much more likely to be able to provide students with the skills that are necessary in their future careers (including university careers). I do think that this needs to be done carefully. You don't necessarily want a "Goldman Sachs School of Mathematics", as this would be too limited. Perhaps industries need to create consortiums to help direct their knowledge into school environments in a more open way.

    And finally, who could argue with parents who want a little more control over how things are run? The government often tell us that rather than moan about something, we should do something about it. Parent-run schools are more likely to be sensitive towards the issues in the local community. This, in turn, will help students of these schools have a closer-knit community, and hopefully they will fit into the external community better too.

  4. Lord Adonis should join his spiritual party - the Tory Party. Whenever any politician refers only to one example of something then you much know it is wrong. Politicians of all parties use Mossbourne as an example of supposed success of the academy programme. WLFS is so new we don't know if it will be successful or not. What we do know is that, already, it does not have the truly comprehensive intake it promised.

    Lord Adonis is, supposedly, intelligent. This should mean that he is able to interpret the results of the academies which have been open long enough for the "academy" effect to be known. Take away the government's extra "start up" funding the academies got. Take away the disproportionate number of new buildings they got. Take away the boosting of results by forcing pupils to take vocational courses which were overweighted. Allow for the reduction in the percentage of pupils on free school meals. Then compare academies with similar schools and what have you got. An ideologically driven waste money.