As the co-founder of the West London Free School [www.wlfs.org] â€“ a four-form entry secondary in Hammersmith â€“ Iâ€™ve had plenty of arguments about the pros and cons of the coalitionâ€™s education reforms. After three years, Iâ€™ve concluded that the strongest argument for free schools is that they provide a protected space within the taxpayer-funded sector where teachers and educationalists can try out new things â€“ the research and development wing of state education, if you like. By allowing schools like the WLFS to innovate and experiment â€“ and monitoring the results â€“ we can eventually discover more effective ways of teaching and learning and, by extension, drive up standards across the board.
Now, Iâ€™m pretty sure Iâ€™ve heard all the responses to this, from â€˜You shouldnâ€™t experiment with childrenâ€™s livesâ€™ to â€˜Thereâ€™s plenty of innovation going on in community schools alreadyâ€™. Perhaps the best rebuttal is that the population of one free school is too small â€“ and too atypical â€“ to draw any meaningful conclusions from a single trial.
My intention is not to get into that debate here. Rather, I want to tell you about the experiment thatâ€™s currently being conducted at the WLFS and which we will shortly extend to a new primary school. (To read more, click here.)