Sensitive soul that he is, the loathsome Toby Young has been in touch to take issue with my latest observations about goings-on at the West London Free School (WLFS), of which he is CEO. He has also found time to comment adversely upon a recent piece in the Standard on WLFS’ expenditure of £9.25 million of taxpayers’ money on an office building in Hammersmith.
Don't start the vino just yet, Tobes
Sadly for Tobes, these interventions only serve to prompt more questions, to which I suspect he may be reluctant to provide answers. Let us turn first to that building on Bridge Avenue, which, it has been estimated, will provide a playground space of 40cm by 40cm per pupil. And it won’t be able to accommodate all the cycles ridden by those who have been estimated to use that transport mode.
Tobes told the Standard that WLFS “has three schools in Hammersmith – a secondary and two primaries. We were asked to step up the primaries by the local authority because of the acute shortage of primary school places in the area thanks to the last government's short-sighted cuts”. That’s fascinating – suddenly, local authorities have no say in providing places – when the Tories are in charge.
He went on “Overall, the cost of setting up the three schools in our multi-academy trust will be far lower than the amount of money the last government would have spent under its ludicrously inefficient Building Schools for the Future programme to create three new schools. The £9.25m figure you mention is less than a third of the average cost of a new BSF school”. And the bullshit detector sounded.
As another commenter on the article has pointed out, “That £9.25 m for the office block works out to be £6200 a square metre. In comparison, BSF designed and put up new schools for £1600 a metre for a building of a comparable size”. Given that there is more work to do to make Bridge Avenue fit for purpose, it will, if that estimate is correct, cost four times as much as BSF, not “less than a third”.
So it appears that Tobes’ trousers are well alight. And then we come to the recent staff problems, which not only included losing a second headmaster, but also the Senior Tutor of Year 7, who appears not to have yet been replaced. What happened to Mrs Jo Fernando? She appeared to be one of the few teachers with significant experience, having previously put in six years at Mossbourne Academy.
And why were so many of the staff hauled in by Tobes and Co for an extended chat recently? Why are there so many hockey players among the staff – including those whose roles have no apparent sporting connection, including the Data Manager? And what happens when what looks like an enthusiastic but inexperienced looking crew has to deal with a rather bigger school?
In the meantime, investigations continue. All information received in confidence.