Monday, October 22, 2012

Back to the Future at the “West London Free School”


Compulsory Latin, suspension for a skinhead haircut and prizes for coming first! It's not Eton or Harrow, but it may just be the strictest state school in Britain

In an article in the Daily Mail under the above headline Jonathan Petre describes his visit to the “West London Free School” (WLFS) – one of the jewels in the crown of the Coalition Government’s education policy led by Education Minister Michael Gove.




For me the values of this school, and the assumptions which lie behind them, are truly appalling. The WLFS seems to be taking Education back 50 years to the 1950s . The idea of compulsory Latin is absurd but instructive because it reveals the attitudes and mind-set of those conducting this offensive social experiment. It is almost as if the modernisation of education that has occurred since I was a child in the 1950s had never happened.

We have always had an extraordinary diversity of educational standards and practices in Britain. The Independent sector, affordable for less than 7% of parents, generally provides exceptional education – as it should given that it can cream off some of the best teachers by offering higher salaries and far better facilities and working conditions. Then there is the plethora of Faith School which overtly and deliberately confuse the inculcation of religious practices and norms with education. Many of these Faith schools are State funded. Then we have the grey area of Schools which are not logical members of the majority State norm – the Comprehensive schools – but are nevertheless in the State system. New Labour’s Academies and the Coalition’s similar Free Schools fall into this category.

What this diversity and inconsistency means is that parents can either pay for their children’s education if they can afford to, or play the Postcode game – trying to get themselves resident in an area which has the better State Schools, including, if that is how they perceive them, the Academies and the Free Schools. There is absolutely no equality of opportunity (a foundation of any civilised society) in this. A child's education depends on the wealth of their parents and/or their skill in finessing things so that they are in the right place at the right time! The poor parent who is ill-equipped to play the game and may not even see the value of education in the first place will have ill-educated children going to poor schools – the “bog standard comprehensives” as Alastair Campbell once infamously called them.

The WLFS seems to ape the traditions of the Grammar Schools of the Post War era – and remember that these schools themselves were to some extent imitations of the style of the elite “Public Schools”. The uniforms, the discipline, the compulsory Latin remind me of my days at Dulwich College in the 1950s. Frankly this school nearly broke me mainly because of the elements of school life there which the WLFS is incorporating into its their daily routines. That some pupils will respond positively in these conditions I don't doubt – but that does not make it right. That some will fail because they find the discipline too strong, the uniforms a parody of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the compulsory teaching of a dead language indefensible seems likely as well. Hopefully these children will leave and find a more congenial environment – as I did when I slunk away from Dulwich at the age of 12!

That Latin can be an option on the curriculum is fair enough in any school that has the competence to teach it. That it should be compulsory is grotesque. Indeed it is arguable that only the obvious core subjects which inculcate essential life skills should be compulsory. Latin is not one of these.

The discipline of the School and the conformity required by its silly uniforms  creates a sub culture that is not matched in modern Society. It resembles a religiously bigoted institution where imposed behavioural standards are unlike anything in the real world and as a result create school leavers utterly unprepared for the challenges of early adulthood. It is a shameful and indulgent experiment


At 12:09 am , Blogger Dogberry said...

Very good post. I strongly agree with everything in this post. I like your catchy title, too. I may use some of your points (giving you credit) in an article soon.

Frank Fitzsimons

At 12:11 am , Blogger Dogberry said...

Very good post. I strongly agree with everything in this post. I like your catchy title, too. I may use some of your points (giving you credit) in an article soon.

Frank Fitzsimons


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