I don’t know Toby Young, although I’ve heard him speak on educational matters, and as a result I’m not what you’d call a fan of his. He’s often invited by the media to represent pro-Govian views on education. And who can blame him : few can be ignorant of the fact that Gove gifted his good friend Young a school to play with. The West London Free School is the flagship school of Gove’s flagship programme. The proud boast of its founder and fans is that it will bring rigour, challenge and success to an inner city area, succeeding where all those terrible state schools previously failed.
So inevitably, I decided to have a look at its statistics.
I’ve approached this in a slightly different way than previously, in an attempt to head off any attempt to obfuscate the issues by questioning the stats. What I’ve done is drill down to individual student number levels. I hope the following explanation is clear.
West London Free School, according to its website, admits 120 students each year. So what I’ve done is to try and look at what the make-up of the nearest students produced by local primaries actually is. That way we can see just how representative the West London Free School’s intake is. So I’ve looked at the nearest six local state primary schools, all within half a mile, who between them produce 180 secondary-ready students each year (or 181 to be precise in 2013). Why 180 instead of 120 ? Well, because some of these schools are voluntary aided, so some parents may choose a religious secondary, and also in West London there’s always turnover with families leaving the area and new families entering. Assuming two thirds both remain in the area and don’t have a religious preference seems more than fair to WLFS. I’ve also tried to be as kind as possible: the sixth and furthest school has a comparatively advantaged intake, so I’ve included it to give West London Free School a fighting chance to demonstrate it is representative of its community.
A further assumption is that, given West London Free School’s popularity, the majority of the parents of these 180 children would like to apply for a place at this very close new secondary school with the excellent publicity. So we’d expect that the intake of West London Free School would be broadly representative of the local cohort.
Obviously, I don’t have details on each of these 181 individual children. So what I’ve done is to assume that each cohort within that primary school will be representative of the overall school in terms of EAL, FSM and SEN. That, of course, needn’t be the case, but overall a school would reasonably expect the proportion of students with those characteristics not to change dramatically year on year. So using the school’s overall percentage of SEN/EAL/FSM students, I’ve calculated how many students one would expect that school to be producing with those characteristics, from its leaving class. I’ve rounded down or up to the nearest whole child!
The table is below :
|School||Number of Students leaving Y6||Predicted SEN number (%)||Predicted EAL number (%)||Predicted FSM number (%)|
|1||22||2 (10.2%)||13 (60.8%)||12 (55.5%)|
|2||23||3 (12.5%)||8 (36.9%)||9 (40.7%)|
|3||56||3 (4.7%)||21 (38.3%)||15 (26.8%)|
|4||30||3 (8.8%)||4 (14.6%)||5 (15.2%)|
|5||23||2 (6.9%)||12 (53.8%)||13 (55.6%)|
|6||27||1 (5.4%)||10 (37.6%)||4 (15.9%)|
|Totals||181||14 (7.7%)||68 (37.6%)||58 (32%)|
The final column is the most representative set of figures I can work out for the actual students who are leaving the nearest primaries to WLFS. WLFS is, I understand, oversubscribed, and so one would expect that it is the parents of these children who are competing to get a place there. So we’d expect to see WLFS demographics reflecting those percentages for SEN, EAL and FSM.
You can probably guess what’s coming next.
|% of local primary leavers if allocated proportionally to WLFS (number)||7.7% (9)||37.6% (45)||32% (38)|
|% of West London Free School intake (number)||3.3% (4)||11.6% (14)||24.9% (30)|
These really are quite remarkable figures. Wherever Toby Young appears to be recruiting his students from, it doesn’t appear to be the local community. His school’s % of SEN students is less than half that which leaves local state primaries. His school’s proportion of children receiving FSM is significantly less than expected. But the figure which stands out is that for EAL. The school is located in a very multicultural area of London, with many new immigrant families, so that well over a third of all local primary children speak English as a second language. Yet in their local secondary school, the West London Free School, only just over a tenth have English as a second language.
There are three possible explanations for this :
(1) Local parents who are poorer, or who don’t speak English as a first language, or whose children have SEN, are shunning West London Free School; or
(2) Statistical aberration – the SEN, EAL and FSM students in the local primaries are heavily weighted towards their lower years, and the last couple of years have been remarkably advantaged, so WLFS is actually reflecting the demographic in two particular years, and will see its figures rise as those disproportionately disadvantaged younger years work their way through primary schools (which seems very unlikely); or
(3) West London Free School, and Toby Young, have found a way of managing their admissions process to exclude most eligible local children with SEN and/or EAL, and a good proportion of those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds.
I think I know which one my money is on.
Either way, when West London Free School starts to produce GCSE results, there is no way that it can be held up as an example of a success story of inner city education. It could only be such an example if we somehow made most of the disadvantaged children in the inner city disappear.
Perhaps one reason why headteachers don’t stay long at West London Free School is that they have some wild, outlandish notions that a local state school should represent and educate its local community ?