There’s no such thing as a Free School



I lingered at the school gates today longer than normal because a fellow parent had just been to an open evening at the controversial new West London Free School.

Our nearest Secondary School is of the ‘good and improving ‘ variety which fills me with hope for the future of my own two delinquents-in-training. But, I was curious.

My friend had left less than impressed.

The Headmaster had kicked off by explaining he was not half as bad as the Netmums reviews had made out. I tried to find out what the reviews said but all I discovered was a long thread in which posters were complaining that they shouldn’t be penalised for being middle class; and for not smoking and drinking away any spare cash. Rather, they wisely spent that ‘extra’ money on private tutoring while they waited for a local Free School to open so they could avoid their children going to school in a sink. I think that’s what they said, but half way down the page I got a headache and had to go and have a fag and a pint of ale lie down for a little while.

But back to my friend and the WLFS because after the self-confessed misunderstood Headmaster came Toby Young, the man that began the whole thing.

Let’s face it an impoverished Tory forced to live in Acton of all places with his wife and 483 children had to do something about our current education system. Heaven forbid his offspring should actually attend a school in their own neighborhood.

And so it was the West London Free School was formed, and funded and now will be filled with the lucky and the good. Except my friend reported back, it was less about the lucky and the good and more about the founders, children that could play the cello and anyone that can actually, properly, do magic.

Of the 120 places available one is of course already ear-marked for Toby’s eldest thereby guaranteeing the other 482 follow suit.  The school was given special dispensation for this clause so that all these pioneering middle class parents who thought their local schools were shit not good enough for their children,  also have guaranteed places alongside Toby’s brood. Not knowing how many founders there are (but suspecting the worst) that could actually mean that all the places are already taken up thereby making these open evenings and indeed the entire application process a monumental sham of a mockery.

To be honest I don’t actually begrudge Toby a shot at educating his masses in this way. He has, after all, put a lot of time and energy into schmoozing his Tory friends and putting the fear of God into vast swathes of middle class parents. Bombarding them with tantalizing images of Hogwarts-esque uniforms and compulsory latin must have taken up a lot of his time. You can’t seduce pretty much every Waitrose shopper from Kew to Queens Park in your lunch hour now can you?

But a word to the wise to all of us democratically-minded parents – this whole Free School thing – is clearly only ‘Free’ some of the time, to some of the people.

If I can be arsed I might even set up my own. Opting out of the National Curriculum (like the WLFS) I would insist on my pupils wearing pink woolly hats and green felt shoes. They will also have to hum the theme to Black Beauty every day in assembly. And beyond that I am open to suggestions.

If you’re in, please feel ‘Free’ to comment below.


4 thoughts on “There’s no such thing as a Free School

  1. London City (Mum)

    Poignant and relevant post, not least because I, too, went to the open evening at the WLFS yesterday. And was likewise slightly underwhelmed by the whole event.
    A Head Teacher who is, undoubtedly, dedicated and devoted to ‘the cause’.
    A Registrar who merely read out loud the handout about applications we had been given upon entrance (does ‘open to all’ mean the illiterate as well?).
    Two students who stood up and sang the school’s praises in their own way. Lovely touch.
    And then ‘the man’ Toby Young.

    *pause for thought and to compose oneself*

    Suffice to say that until he stood up and went on and on and on and on and on and on about his daughter coming to the WLFS next year, as well as his other children – because he has FOUR you know – and his daughter is coming to WLFS and having no say in it, and his daughter was going to be the FIRST of his FOUR children to attend, and his daughter might want to go to another school but he was having NOTHING of this as she was going to come to the WLFS, and that he would be involved in the WLFS for at least another 15 years because he has FOUR children and that’s how long it will take to get them all into the school, and they have NO SAY in it and did I mention that his daughter is coming to the school next year… Right, where was I?

    Oh yes. Until TY spoke, I thought the WLFS might be no.1 on our list of preferences.
    No more (aided by further insights from a friend who was working there until recently).

    We proceeded to another open evening at the Richmond Park Academy and it was fabulous. Amazing staff, facilities, premises, students, visions, energy, curriculum/extra curricular activities.
    Guess what our preference (and our son’s) is now?

    And it really is ‘free’.

    LCM x

    1. Careering Post author

      So glad you said that about RPS – we’ve been hearing great things about that school so hoping that when the time comes it hasn’t improved SO much we can’t get our kids in!

  2. Jo

    I’ve got a Y2 kid, so it’s a bit of a way off. My biggest fear is that she will want to be educated by Toby Young. I can’t think of any one less suited to filling our kids’ minds (well, I can, but….). So glad to read the comment above about RPA, as I’m really hoping that will be our first choice too, it’s local and it’s properly comprehensive and I think that leads to a much rounder education.


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