Tag Archives: West London Free school

Tobes’ free school gets free publicity courtesy of the BBC

Yesterday evening I was watching BBC London News and couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. The West London Free School, Toby Young’s vanity project in Hammersmith, was given plenty of airtime in what amounted to nothing more than free publicity at the expense of the license payer.

Not only was the segment a bit of free publicity, it also contained some factual inaccuracies.  When the report was first aired at 1325, the reporter said that the school had support from various people but neglected to mention the council. This was put right after I tweeted the BBC to remind them that Hammersmith and Fulham Council supported the project. The reporter also claimed that Young had set up the school to “respond to the shortage of places in the borough [of Hammersmith & Fulham]”. Hon Tobes actually wanted to site his school in Acton in the neighbouring borough of Ealing. When he couldn’t find a suitable location, Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council duly obliged and gave notice to the 21 or so tenants of Palingswick House.

The West London Free School is being touted as the template for future free schools.  While schools like this will receive funding from central government,  I fear that those schools that are part of the state comprehensive system will see their funding dry up unless they adopt the government’s model.

Here’s what Foghorn Phibbs said about Palingswick House last year.

It is a splendid building what is much better suited as a school rather than as office accommodation to voluntary organisation which is its use at present. Many of the groups do excellent work. For instance I was impressed  by a course the Afghan Council held Portcullis House last month teaching young Afghans about the workings of our Parliament – several of  them bravely plan to work in Afghanistan to use that knowledge to help develop their own Parliament. I am pictured helping the Afghan Ambassador hand out  their certificates.

Really? So why boot them out? He won’t say, instead he tells us that,

[…] alternative office accommodation for these organisations would be more cost effective. Selling the building helps us reduce our debt mountain and thus our interest bill – that leaves us with more money for the voluntary sector than we could otherwise afford.

Excuses, excuses. What the dissembling Phibbs failed to mention was the unsuitability of the new accommodation. He also neglected to mention that his wife/life partner was a councillor and used her influence to smooth the way for Hon Tobe’s school.

Here’s the link to BBC London News. The report is at 09.57. it’s only available for the next 7 hours.

It would appear that Hon Tobes’ ambitions don’t end with the West London Free School, he wants to start a chain of such schools.

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More shady happenings in Hammersmith & Fulham

The Tories who run Hammersmith & Fulham Council are not a democratic bunch. This was amply demonstrated earlier this year when they bulldozed through their plans to close community centres and mass evict over 20 local charities from Palingswick House, which they have given the Hon Tobes West London Free School. These Tories talk about liberty and democratic values but it is nothing but lip service. They work in the interests of themselves and their business partners. They dole out favours to their favourite construction business who, in return, make vast profits for themselves and their shareholders, who are Tories.

The Cowan Report says that

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the Conservative Party set up a property speculators forum that “raises around £150,000 a year for the Tory party and charges members £2,500 to meet senior MPs to discuss policy and planning issues.”  It is chaired by Mr. Mike Slade, of Helical Bar Plc. That firm is one of Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s preferred partners behind the highly controversial new Town Hall office plans.
The Telegraph tells how Mr Slade has been a key influence on the Conservative Party’s developing planning policies and how he has also generously “given more than £300,000 over the past decade, individually and through his property firm, Helical Bar.”

You can read the rest of the blog here

Naturally, this should come as no surprise especially when one considers the companies that were given contracts to build private prisons, McAlpine and Mowlem, are massive contributors to the Tory Party. You can read more about those two companies here.

In the aftermath of the worst rioting seen for a generation, it’s surprising that some junior minister or barking mad Tory backbencher didn’t call for the expansion of private prisons. Here’s Moonie Nile Gardiner in the Telegraph calling for more private prisons to be built.

The prime minister should make it clear that no effort will be spared in hunting down the looters/rioters, who must face lengthy prison terms for their crimes. He should also be prepared to build new prisons if necessary to hold them. This is no time for Cameron to go wobbly. Britain is on the precipice of unprecedented levels of public disorder which must be decisively met with a firm determination to quell the riots and bring every one of these violent thugs to justice .

Justice, in Gardiner’s Moonie universe, is for those who can afford it.

The Tories who run Hammersmith & Fulham suffer from the same afflictions as Gardiner: narrow-mindedness, greed and class disgust. Recently, Edith Summerskill House in West Kensington was decanted of its tenants who were told that the block had to be emptied in order for improvements to be carried out. The tenants were not allowed to return and the block was sold off to a private developer. I suspect that this developer has close links to the ruling Tory group, if not the national party. HF Conwatch has the story here. Commenting on the blog, Caroline Ffiske, former Tory councillor, spouse of Foghorn Phibbs and member of the West London Free School steering committee, wrote.

I think its is a wonderful scheme. Apparently it would have cost thousands to bring each of the existing flats up to Decent Homes standards. I think mixed developments are great for the whole community.

Well, she would think that. But, hang on, don’t the funds for the Decent Homes Scheme come from central government? Furthermore, haven’t these funds been allocated for this purpose? By the way, the council also intends to dispose of the Clement Atlee Estate.

Finally, The Cowan Report notes that H&F Council has marked its thirteenth appearance in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column.

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Greenhalgh tries to scupper tenant’s plans in West Kensington

I found this interesting blog from the Guardian’s  Dave Hill. Recently the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green have been trying to apply for a stock transfer, which would thwart LBHF’s attempt to demolish their homes in the proposed redevelopment of the area around the Earl’s Court exhibition centre.

Earls Court redevelopment: Stephen Greenhalgh asks for ‘wider benefit tests’ to limit tenants’ power

From Inside Housing:

A flagship Conservative council has asked ministers to water down proposals to give tenants the right to take over the ownership of their estates, so that a major redevelopment project can go ahead.

You’ll have guessed that said flagship is Hammersmith and Fulham and that the “major redevelopment project” is the Earls Court project – the one that will involve the demolition of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates unless residents groups are able to make use of that proposed right to take ownership by way of a “stock transfer” under Section 34A of the 1985 Housing Act. I’ve written about the saga here, here and elsewhere.

Section 34A was introduced by the last government, but did not come into force because the necessary accompanying regulations were not put in place. The present government intends to complete the job in line with its localism agenda. Inside Housing continues:

A response to a request from Inside Housing under the Freedom of Information Act revealed Stephen Greenhalgh, council leader at Hammersmith & Fulham, emailed CLG ministers Greg Clark and Grant Shapps in January to ask that tests be applied before tenant-led transfers are approved in regeneration areas.

The email read: “We believe it is wrong to allow regulations on stock transfer to apply without these wider benefit tests in these ‘opportunity areas’ as an unintended consequence could be to impede regeneration in those very areas already defined as needing major economic growths, jobs and homes.”

Read on

On another, related note, I have noticed that the council’s development ‘partner’ EC Harris, who are associated with Toby Young’s Free School, have moved into offices next to the Town Hall.  Highly symbolic.

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H & F Council: information, disinformation and no information

Early last month, I made a couple of information requests to H&F council under the Freedom of Information Act. I submitted the requests about one week apart from each other. The second request, asking which company publishes the soon-to-be-defunct H&F News, was completed quickly. The first one, which asked if any emails regarding the West London Free School had been sent between Cambridge House and the Bryony Centre, was delayed twice (they explained that it would be delayed) and on 6 April, after it was delayed again and I had not heard from them, I sent a polite but short email asking what had happened to the requested information. Within hours, I received an email informing me that “no emails were sent between Cambridge School and the Bryony Centre in July of last year”.

Normally a request should take 20 days to complete. On this occasion it actually took the council 30 odd days to even tell me that there was nothing. I have to tell you, friends, that I am suspicious. So suspicious that I am about to make a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office. It seems to me that the council has not fulfilled its statutory obligation and when I asked them what had happened to the information, they failed to provide it on time. Given the fact that this council has maladministered my council tax account, perhaps the delay and the accompanying excuses were only to be expected. That said, there is something fishy going on and I intend to get to the bottom of it.

Recently H&F council has paid the Fulham Chronicle to carry its information propaganda. Shepherds Bush blog broke the story on 14 February. This is an unprecedented move because I know of no other council that has made such an arrangement with an independent local paper. Nowhere Towers believes that the Fulham Chronicle will now go a little easier on H&F Council, since – according to the Cowan Report – the council has paid the paper £75,000 to carry its information. In many respects, this is like the Cabinet Office paying the Daily Mirror to disseminate the government’s ‘happiness’ agenda. Make no mistake, this recent move by the council conforms entirely to the propaganda model – only rather than a compnay paying for advertising space, H&F council will actually pay for its own information to be carried by the paper.

It’s a very worrying development and it appears prima facie to circumvent Eric Pickles’s agenda to clamp down on so-called “Town Hall Pravdas”. H&F council’s Dear Leader was cock-a-hoop about the deal. Here he is quoted on Shepherds Bush blog

“We have been incredibly proud to have published H&F News but this agreement is a positive step forward for the borough’s residents as we have secured an effective way of communicating our news, while delivering real value for money. As a result we will continue to have one of the lowest communication costs of any London borough.

“Additionally, this illustrates our commitment to supporting a vibrant independently produced newspaper in the borough.”

It’s the last paragraph that sticks in the mind. How can Greenhalgh possibly make this claim with a straight face?

Finally, I’ll always remember H&F News‘ “Your Shout” column, which was always written by a member of the paper’s editorial staff. This can be seen as a microcosm of the way in which H&F council works and is a possible indication of how its relationship with Fulham Chronicle might play out over the coming years.

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More opposition to Tobes’s free school – this time from Latymer Upper School

I found this article in the Evening Standard. The headmaster of Latymer Upper School, which will be the West London Free School’s neighbour, has voiced opposition to the Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s plan to house Acton-based Toby Young’s school in nearby Palingswick House,

The head of a £15,000-a-year private school is rallying neighbours to object to plans to open a free school nearby.

Peter Winter, head of Latymer Upper School, has written to neighbours voicing concerns over West London Free School. One of the first free schools to open in the capital, it is due to move into Palingswick House in Hammersmith, next to Latymer.

Ravenscourt Park Preparatory is also nearby and is planning to expand.

You can read the rest of the article here.

There was an interesting point raised last year on Mumsnet about admissions. It would appear that the Hon Tobes’s own children could be excluded because they live outside of the school’s catchment area.

This article from the Press Association says,

Parents who help to set up free schools could be given guaranteed places for their children under reforms to the admissions code being considered by ministers.

The article also reminds us that,

Under the admissions code, schools cannot choose their pupils, but have to adhere to strict guidelines, designed to given every child a fair chance of a place. It was understood that this would apply to free schools as well.

Maybe Hon Tobes’s chums on H&F council will find him a new house in the borough too? Who knows?

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Right wing nutter in spittle-laced rage over opposition to his vanity project

In today’s Telegraph, the Hon Tobes  produces a wonderful piece of sensationalist drivel. In a piece of blatant trolling, he titles his blog “Left wing nutters go bonkers over West London Free School”.  The subject of his spittle-laced outrage is the Local Schools Network, whom he decides to smear and not engage in a serious discussion.  Tobes says,

Meanwhile, someone called Ken Muller has circulated a letter this afternoon to various national newspapers in which he falsely accuses me of being a homophobe. His “evidence” for this is a piece I wrote for the Spectator the week before last – odd that he didn’t notice it until now – in which I teased the Chair of Governors at Stoke Newington School, one Henry Stewart, for writing a lachrymose piece on the Local Schools Network about how touching it was to see the school’s 12-13-year-olds celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Week. It was so over-the-top – such a classic example of political correctness – I thought it read like a parody written by a brilliant Right-wing satirist. The gag in my Spectator piece is that I pretended it had been written by the Education Secretary himself.

Let’s have a look at that Spectator piece. Here’s the opening paragraph,

You have to take your hat off to Michael Gove. In spite of the Herculean task he has saddled himself with — saving the state education system of this country — he has managed to find time to produce a brilliant piece of satire. I’m referring to a blog on the Local Schools Network entitled ‘Celebrating diversity at Stoke Newington School’.

“Saving the state education system”? How is he doing that, Tobes? By creating more class divisions within the education system? Someone’s logic is flawed. Let’s read on,

The Local Schools Network is a website that exists primarily to disseminate smears and lies about free schools. It boasts the patronage of Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn, but by far its most energetic contributor is Francis Gilbert, a media studies teacher in Bethnal Green. Gilbert has devoted himself, body and soul, to frustrating the efforts of parents and teachers to set up schools.

Ah, so the Local Schools Network exists solely to give you and Gove a hard time? It is interesting how Hon Tobes doesn’t tell us exactly what he means by “smears and lies”. Presumably criticisms of Gove’s education policy and Tobes’s frothing-at-the-mouth zealotry is “smears and lies”? Someone is being paranoid.

There’s more

Last week, a post appeared on the site that purported to be by someone called ‘Henry Stewart’, but I’m almost certain this is a pseudonym. The real author, I’m convinced, is none other than the Secretary of State for Education. His aim, clearly, is to point up the extent to which state education has been hijacked by the loony left.

What’s he saying here? That Gove is sockpuppeting? It’s entirely possible but unlikely. Tobes falls back on his beloved 80’s phrase “loony left”. Remember, this is a man who lives in the past. His aim is to create a school that offers a “classical liberal” education.

After a little trolling on the Local Schools Network site, he tells us that,

Satire is supposed to cut like a scalpel, not a butcher’s knife. This is too over the top to be effective. All I can say, dear reader, is that you are clearly unfamiliar with the crazy excesses of contemporary state education. Believe me, it is all too plausible.

This is the classic defence of one who uses ‘humour’ as a fig-leaf to cover his inherent prejudices and class disgust.  It’s a little like the old defence offered by the tellers of racist jokes in the 1960s and 1970s “It’s a joke. What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke”? It’s the Jim Davidson defence. In other words, it isn’t much of a defence.

Anyway, back to the Tobes’s blog,

It really is quite extraordinary that anyone who questions the wisdom of asking young children to spend their time in school celebrating “LGBT Week” should immediately be branded “evil”. I yield to no one in my support for minority rights – and have written several articles on this site attacking various Islamic countries for failing to uphold them. As a classical liberal who regards J.S. Mill’s On Liberty as something close to a sacred text, I would defend everyone’s right to pursue their own happiness in their own way provided it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others to pursue theirs.

There are a couple of things here. First, we see that Young only regards minority rights as viewed through the prism of a hated Other. The Other, in this case, being so-called “Islamic” countries (that, in itself is revealing). Second, he offers J S Mill’s On Liberty as a “sacred text”.  While there is much to applaud Mill for, it is likely that there is a degree of selectivity involved. We see here  someone who is a tireless defender of rights but only insofar as those folk who share his ideas on  Enlightenment-inspired wisdom.

Here’s the rest of the paragraph,

Indeed, it’s because I believe that the state’s role in people’s lives should be kept to an absolute minimum that I support free schools – and, indeed, greater freedom for all schools.

Minarchist drivel; this is merely a justification for furthering and deepening class divisions.  The “the state should stay out of people’s lives” has been used by the ruling class to support their narrative of liberty. What they refuse to tell us, is how this liberty is likely enslave those who are not members of the same class. Was the 19th century factory or mill worker free? No. And those who were forced to go to the workhouses? No. Someone hasn’t read and understood their history.

The Victorian era is viewed with nostalgia by many Tories. For them, it was a golden age when people knew their place and the rich could get on with the business of exploiting the poor. On his website in 2007, Gove said,

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies.

The title to his blog is most revealing and offers an insight into the workings of the Tory mind. But there is a problematic in this romanticized view of the past: it ignores historical materialism for the sake of ideology. Nostalgia, as I have always said, is history with all the bad bits removed. The grinding poverty, high rates of infant mortality, high rates of maternal deaths resulting from childbirth, rampant disease, superstition, Social Darwinism and ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor are all conveniently forgotten aspects of the Victorian era.

In their rose-tinted yearning for the past, the Tories have failed to grasp one salient fact: they did poorly at the ballot box for much of the 19th century. The party that dominated most the of the late Victorian era was Gladstone’s Liberals. It was only when Disraeli embraced social reforms did the party’s fortunes change. Young and Gove would do well to remember that.

This Guardian article by Timothy Stanley sums it up. He says,

And this is a subtle point that government Victoriaphiles miss about our public services: the welfare state was the 20th century’s answer to the social problems created in the 19th. Owen and Rowntree started out as private philanthropists, but they dreamed that one day free schools and hospitals funded by taxation would become national policy. The 19th century closed with the birth of the Labour party – the political summation of the era’s reforming spirit. The Victorian revolution enriched and enfranchised the people and what did they do with their newfound money and power? They built the very welfare state the government is now intent on dismantling.

I’ve actually read Francis Gilbert’s blog on the LSN site and I have to say that Tobes has bitten off more than he can chew – which is why he wrote a load of drivel in response. Therefore, I would like to offer Hon Tobes a piece of advice. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – as the hoary auld cliché goes.

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Jamie’s Dream School/Toby’s Free School – Pie in the sky and vanity

Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver thinks that by rounding up a few famous faces and putting in them in front of a class, that this is the recipe for successful teaching and learning. There is an obvious problematic to this idea: there are not enough celebrities to go around. But the most obvious problem with this way of thinking is that celebrities can magically transform learning by mere dint of their personality. None of the famous faces that Oliver has chosen actually has had any teaching experience in a school (Alistair Campbell????). This leads some people to think that anyone can teach and that teaching doesn’t necessarily require any training.

Last night’s programme saw David Starkey verbally abusing a pupil. Rolf Harris and the others didn’t fare any better either.  These aren’t the sort of people that I’d have teaching a class of disaffected youngsters. Many of these kids had been excluded and found themselves in Pupil Referral Units (PRU). The problems range from having a difficult time at home to being bullied at school and responding aggressively to verbal and physical attacks. None of this seemed to matter to the programme makers who simply saw this as another great television opportunity. But telly isn’t real life;  it only forms representations of life. Engaging these pupils will take more than a few celebrities posing as pedagogues. The idea may be a noble one but it is one that is full of flaws.

I read on the Hon Tobes’s blog yesterday that his West London Free school had been approved.  Tobes crows,

We received confirmation yesterday that Michael Gove had signed a Funding Agreement with our school, the green light we’d been waiting for. That means the West London Free School will definitely be opening this September. I can’t say we’ll be the first free school to throw open its doors – about a dozen should open this year – but we are the first to sign a Funding Agreement. It’s a significant milestone, the most important one we’ve passed so far. Our enemies may still attempt to obstruct us, but it’s hard to see how they can stop us now. We’ve crossed the Rubicon.

“Crossed the Rubicon”? How dramatic. To be honest, I thought he’d already marched on Hammersmith Town Hall after one of his insiders had opened one of the gates.

We still have a mountain to climb. Once the school is open we have to make sure it can deliver a classical liberal education that’s accessible to all the children in the neighbourhood, no matter what their ability.

Hmmm, this sounds almost like Jamie’s Dream School, only this is actually for real. To be honest, I think Young has a rather rose-tinted view of education. He presumes to understand the inner workings of formative education and even goes so far as to make prescriptive statements about schooling without actually having the teaching experience to support his contentions.  But, I suspect, that this stems from his disdain of the state comprehensive system. The clue is in the phrase “classical liberal education”. Classical liberalism comes to us from Enlightenment thinkers like Locke, Hobbes and Hume. It is the philosophy that talks of ‘freedom’ but shackles large sections of society into bondage; only the aristocrats and wealthy industrialists were truly free. The Enlightenment was a colossal failure. Its thinkers were naive romantics who viewed the world through the prism of their social class. For all their love of classical liberalism and Manchester liberalism, today’s Tories appear to have forgotten their history: Benjamin Disraeli was opposed to classical liberalism and used the phrase “Manchester Liberal” as a pejorative. By the end of the First World War, the Liberal Party had abandoned classical liberalism. Some people refuse to learn the lesson from history and stumble blindly into the abyss while loudly declaring their ignorance.

I have a PGCE, so I understand issues of inclusion, exclusion and disadvantage. I have also had experience of PRUs (not as an end user).  It seems to me that this free school will cream off the children of  pushy upper middle class parents and abandon those who come from less well-off backgrounds.

Of course whether or not his school takes pupils from less advantaged backgrounds remains to be seen. Somehow, I think I will be proved right.

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