Yesterday, the loathsome Toby Young returned to the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs to once again attack anyone not totally supportive of his hero Michael “Oiky” Gove. And, once again, there was a good reason for the attack: this may look on the surface to be a counter to yesterday’s news of more budget overshoot for his beloved Free Schools programme, but there is another agenda at work.
Sorry Tobes, more questions I'm afraid
As so often when Tobes sounds off at the Tel, at least part of the rationale has to do with deflecting attention away from problems with Free Schools in general, or one Free School in particular. While he accuses Corporal Clegg of ratting on “Oiky” – probably wrong, as the most likely culprit is David Laws – the troubles of his very own domain, the West London Free School (WLFS) continue.
Following all the recent staff changes, which culminated in the abrupt departure of headmaster Sam Naismith at the start of this month, Sally Coates, formerly head at Burlington Danes Academy in Shepherd’s Bush, has appeared at WLFS. What is not known is at whose prompting: it has been suggested to me that the DfE made the decision to get someone in who knew what they were doing.
Tobes has told “Dame Sally Coates has very kindly agreed to keep on eye on the school this term and help us recruit a new head ... It's not a formal role. Rather, she's acting as a mentor and adviser to the acting head and the senior leadership team. So far she's been brilliant and everyone at the school is very impressed ... With Dame Sally's help I'm confident we'll find an excellent new head”.
Apparently, Tobes may have been able to choose who was brought in, but not that someone had to be. That someone from outside the school has to be brought in does not reflect well on what had gone before. And the obvious question that Sally Coates’ “informal appointment” begs is this: how much time is she having to put in at WLFS, and who is footing the bill for her services?
And on the wider question of Free Schools generally, why does Tobes think it’s OK that, by his own admission, 30% of them are being set up where there is no need for the places they provide? Where is his citation for the claim that “the construction costs of free schools are 40 per cent lower than the cost of setting up council-run schools under the last government”?
Why can he not address the mildly inconvenient fact that the Free Schools programme was originally budgeted at £450 million, went a whole £1 billion over budget, and now appears to be going a further £800 million beyond The Number That “Oiky” First Thought Of? The only conclusion that can be reached is that Tobes’ latest rant is another smokescreen to deflect from failings at WLFS.
What those failings are will be found out, whether Tobes wishes it or not.