Innovative School Design

Agent provocateur

When you reject innovative teaching methods and architecturally designed school buildings you’re being equally brave argues Toby Young. Here he discussed with us the establishment of West London Free School in Hammersmith and the reasons behind their decisions to go ‘back to basics’ there.

One of the first things that struck me, on meeting Toby Young, was, despite the fact that students at West London Free School, the secondary school he co-founded in 2011, are required to sit still, sit upright, in rows and facing the front in lessons, he jumped to his feet immediately I’d finished asking my first question, never returning to his seat during the whole of the next hour he paced from one side of the room to the next as we discussed the contrast between the approach at WLFS and pretty well all others we feature in the magazine. The second was, despite his father, social reformer Lord Michael Young, putting his own attendance at the progressive Dartington Hall School down to stimulating his imagination and contributing to him becoming the radical free-thinker who would go on to co-author the Plowden Report in 1967 (that promoted a child-centred approach to primary education) and inspire the establishment of the Open University in 1969, Young felt that the school’s closure, in 1987 was proof that, as a philosophy, it was wrong, and has wholeheartedly eschewed most, if not all so-called progressive approaches to education ever since. He now feels that a return to a traditional curriculum delivered in a traditional way is the only sensible way forward. The reason lies in evidence, or the lack of it, supporting what the refers to as the romantic: holistic, pupil-centric, project-based and any number of other progressive approaches, whereas a significant body of compelling evidence exists to support the direct instruction of a classical liberal education. 

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