One of the country's pioneer free schools, the West London Free School which throws its doors open to its first intakes on Wednesday is already oversubscribed, having received over 500 applications for its first 120 places. Pupils will be housed in a temporary site on Cambridge Grove in Hammersmith and the school is then hoping to move to Palingswick House nearby.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson will be officialy opening the school on Friday. The West London Free School (WLFS) is an 11-18 secondary school, set up by a group of parents and teachers led by journalist and education campaigner, Toby Young. The WLFS will offer pupils a classical liberal education, with a mandatory core of traditional academic subjects, complemented by Art, Music, Drama and Sport. It is bound by the School Admissions Code of Practice and accountable to the Secretary of State for Education. The school will be inspected by Ofsted.
Latin will be compulsory for all pupils up to the age of 14 and any pupil giving it up will be required to study another foreign language up to age 16. History will be mandatory up to the age of 16. The school aims to be a “grammar school for all”, Harold Wilson’s original definition of a comprehensive, declares the school. It will also be a music specialist school. Toby Young who is one of the faces of the new school defends the admissions policy in his Telegraph column:
"I embarked on this journey two years ago, full of grand ideas about how to transform state education. I believe that all children can benefit from learning Latin, from seeing the plays of Shakespeare and from studying our island story. To deny them that opportunity on the grounds that those things are “elitist” is inverted snobbery. We’ll never dismantle the English class system if poor children are herded into media studies classes and forced to watch EastEnders while the children of the rich are introduced to the best that’s been thought and said. That’s not social justice, it’s social apartheid."
There is an acute shortage of secondary school places in Hammersmith and Fulham where less than 50 per cent of the secondary school age population is educated at state secondary schools within the borough. The school will be led by headmaster Thomas Packer, previously the headmaster of Teesside High School, an independent school in Stockton-on-Tees. Before that Mr Packer was the headmaster of an independent school in Devon.
The school will be overseen by a Board of Governors that includes John McIntosh, ex-headmaster of the London Oratory School, Dr Jonathan Katz, lecturer in Classics at St Anne’s College, Oxford and ex-head of Classics at Westminster School, and Dr Elisabeth Cook, head of academic development and undergraduate programmes at the Royal College of Music. The school will open with a group of 120 year seven pupils, building up to 840 pupils when each year group is filled over time. The aim is to admit the first sixth form pupils in 2014-15.
Young, who is Lead proposer and Chair of Governors also trumpets the school's egalitarian goals: “I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve got to this stage and are now ready to open. I can’t pretend it’s been easy, but I hope the fact that we’ve managed to do it will inspire other groups of parents and teachers to follow in our footsteps.
“Thanks to the support we’ve received from the Secretary of State and his officials, as well as the local authority, there will now be a secondary school in our neighbourhood that offers an academically rigorous, liberal education that all children have access to, regardless of income, ability or faith.”
Headmaster Thomas Packer said: “I’m privileged to be at the forefront of creating what will become a very special school, realising the vision of the founders and serving the young people of West London. I believe Free Schools will widen parental choice and play a key part in raising standards in education.”