West London Free School opens its gates today. Its founder explains why its success matters to firms in the capital
Last month, London’s schoolchildren got their GCSE results and, judging from the pictures in the papers of pretty blondes jumping for joy, you’d think that England’s education system has never been healthier. The statistics seem to bear this out, with the proportion of English schoolchildren getting five A*-Cs in their GCSEs increasing to 69.8%. That’s an all-time high.
However, concealed beneath this good news is another story, one that we don’t like to talk about. That is the story of the English class system and how it has survived in spite of the efforts of every post-war British government to dismantle it.
Children on free school meals did less well in their GCSEs, with around half failing to achieve five passing grades. When you add in Maths and English, it falls to less than a third. Last year, more children from a single school – Westminster – managed to get into Oxford and Cambridge than from the entire population of children on free school meals.
“We believe the key to addressing the under-achievement of the capital’s poorest children is to duplicate the practices that you’d find in the city’s best fee-paying schools, like Westminster and St Paul’s”
Once you’ve digested these statistics, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that in the international league table measuring inter-generational social mobility in the developed world, Britain sits at the bottom. Not second from bottom – that would be America – but rock bottom. It’s harder for a child born in poverty in Britain to make something of himself than it is for a child born in any other developed country. If you care about British business, that’s a national disgrace.
It is because I want to try and do something about this that I’ve led the efforts of a group of parents and teachers to set up a free school in West London. Allowing groups of volunteers to set up independent, taxpayer-funded schools is one of the Coalition’s flagship policies and we’ve taken advantage of that to establish one of the first free schools in London.
We believe the key to addressing the under-achievement of the capital’s poorest children is to duplicate the practices that you’d find in the city’s best fee-paying schools, such as Westminster and St Paul’s.
At the West London Free School all the children will study Latin. They’ll watch the plays of Shakespeare and learn poetry by heart. They’ll study politics and philosophy, and learn about the Renaissance. They’ll also participate in a rich programme of after-school clubs and activities, taking on children from the local fee-paying schools in debating competitions and, hopefully, beating them at chess.
We want all the children at the school to go to top universities, no matter how deprived their background, and we want them to leave the school with the confidence and ambition to take on the world.
“There are countless examples of successful business leaders who received a liberal education, the most recent example being Mark Zuckerberg”
Some critics of the school have dismissed this educational philosophy as “elitist” and accused us of wanting to set up a fee-paying school at the taxpayers’ expense. But we will never dismantle our class system if we allow children from poor backgrounds to waste their time at school watching soap operas and playing video games while rich children are introduced to the best that has been thought and said. That’s not social justice. It’s social apartheid.
Another criticism has been that the kind of education children will receive at the West London Free School won’t prepare them for success in the modern world, particularly business success. I disagree. There are countless examples of successful business leaders who received a liberal education, the most recent example being Mark Zuckerberg.
So far, the school has proved popular. We were deluged with job applications from outstanding teachers and over 500 children applied for our first 120 places. The school will be officially opened on Friday by the Mayor of London.
My hope is that among the children from the local housing estates gazing up at the blond god at the opening ceremony will be a future Mayor of London, not to mention a future Mark Zuckerberg.
You can find out more about the West London Free School at www.wlfs.org