(c) Doc Hackenbush 2014
Why did he want to set up WLFS? “I had four children who at the time were all at primary school. There was the nagging worry about where they would go to secondary school if we didn’t get a free school open”. And he couldn’t afford to send his children to private schools. Blowing well north of £25 million of taxpayer funds to give four children the kind of education specified by their father? I’ll just leave that one there.
But he does have regrets. “There are a lot of things I regret … I was very critical of England’s public education system under the last Labour government, and I hadn’t grasped how difficult it is to do better, and to bring about system-wide improvement … there is no question that it was arrogant of me to believe that just having high expectations and believing in the benefits of a knowledge-based education for all, that those things alone would be enough to create successful schools”.
And there is more: “As someone coming into education from the outside, the bits you see of other schools are only the tip of the iceberg. You’re not aware of everything that is going on beneath the surface. You think, ‘well, I could do better than that’, as you are pointing to the tip of the iceberg, without realising how much more there is to it … If I could rewind six years, and know then what I know now, I would have been much less critical of other schools, local authorities, and England’s public education system in general”.
Then came the final confession: “Can I just say … one thing I really regret is that I gave a quick interview in an ITV programme about teachers in which I was quite dismissive about workload complaints. I regret that, enormously. I now know how hard teachers work and what a difficult job it is”. What a journey Tobes has made from all that copy he churned out dismissing teachers, local authorities and unions as “The Blob”.
A journey so significant that Tobes will soon end it: he is stepping down at the end of the current academic year. He is mightily fortunate to be able to take the decision himself, after the ructions which followed the sudden departure of WLFS’ then headmaster Sam Naismith - in the middle of the week, during term time - in May 2014.
Toby Young is typical of the journalist mentality that knows everything about everything, except when it comes to putting that knowledge into practice. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are journalists by profession. And I’ll just leave that one there, too.