The Economist recently reported on the puzzle regarding the Isle of Wight. While it was an “idyllic spot off England’s southern
coast” where “wealthy Londoners sail their boats” the place “contains some of the worst-performing schools in England:
Provisional figures show that in 2013 just 49% of 16-year-olds on the island got at least five C grades, including in English and maths, in GCSE exams. That is fewer than in any of London’s 32 boroughs, or indeed anywhere in the southern half of England apart from nearby Portsmouth. In the previous year the Isle of Wight was second to bottom in the whole country. Just 23% of pupils entitled to free school meals (a proxy for poverty) got five decent grades, compared with a national average of 36%. In September the island’s schools were deemed so bad that Hampshire County Council took them over.
The good news is that this September will see the opening of The Island Free School. The group behind the proposal is led by a
number of teachers, parents and local businessmen. Already the school is oversubscribed. 10 per cent of places are allocated according to musical aptitude.
The school will offer “a disciplined grammar school education in a comprehensive setting. The curriculum will be built around the core subjects and the English Baccalaureate.” The pupils “will be encouraged to think for themselves.” There will be “rigorous, robust monitoring” of progress. The school will be innovative – for example there will be a mandatory extra hour at the ned of the school day for extra curricular activities. The ambition is a school that is “nulli secundus.”
Also there is a primary free school planned for next year, The Sylvan School. It puts stress on he “outdoor experience.”
I hope more free schools will open on this beautiful part of our country. Let them come in different shapes and sizes with different methods and specialisms. It may be that not all will succeed. But the process of allowing choice and competition will surely drive up standards in an area where this is especially needed.