To be Free or not to be Free?

8 Sep

On a global scale the question of good education is still a loud one. What do we need to teach our kids, and most importantly, how do we do it creatively?

The dilemma of Free School still stays – can Toby Young, take on the mantle of his father’s legacy? …or should he stick with ‘Loosing friends and alienating people’ – something he is actually good at.

The driving concept of this school, approved by the legislation only last July, is to build an education institution funded by the government, but founded (what a difference a letter makes) by private individuals; in this case by local parents. The school, scheduled to open this month, had 500 bright young applicants fighting for 120 places in the year.

The old-fashion curriculum of the school has attracted a lot of mixed opinions. Toby Young intends to employ tutors without official qualification, teaching a curriculum of classical subjects including Latin, philosophy and politics to a class of, on average, 11 years old kids. The contrast of traditional and modern approach gives this venture an interesting angle and most importantly a lot of potential.

Yet, the lesson plan does not favour any technical subjects, with computing or IT nowhere to be found on the timetable. In the era of the IPhone ruling and Facebook addiction I find it disturbing that kids are being pulled further away from their ordinary lives to be spoonfed with dusty information. What is the point, when they grow up with technology as their nanny anyway. Shouldn’t they learn to combine the intelligence of the past and ‘Tweet’ it into the future?

Sir Ken Robinson, in his speech on, famously said “We are educating people out of their creativity,” referring to the uneven appreciation of subjects in schools. He argues that it is not the lessons that we need to worry about, but the approach and the techniques we teach to our children in schools. He gives an example how Dance lessons should be taken as seriously as Maths, simply because you don’t know if the next Silvie Guillem is sitting in the front row of your class.

Young’s school is one of many Tory government is planning to build. Similar concepts have already opened its doors to children all over UK including Reading, Camden and Birmingham. But the fundamental difference these schools have over their  traditional rivals is an opportunity to listen to the local communities of parents and accommodate their needs. For example in Norwich parents have set up a school, which fits around their working day and, in Lancashire, kids will be taught transcendent meditation – priorities do vary!

When I was growing up my grandmother has once told me ‘The only free cheese is in the mouse trap’, so when I heard the Toby Young is giving up his day job as a journalist and setting up one of the first ‘free schools’ in West London I couldn’t help but wonder – what is the catch?

Scarlet M

extra links:

Article ‘Free schools open against the odds’ in the The Sunday Times by Jack Grimston.


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