We are getting closer. Our dream of setting up a free school in south London is slowly becoming a reality despite a small but very vocal opposition. The other night, at our parent information evening, one detractor interrupted me in the middle of my speech to the audience, by shouting, "You betrayed us when you decided to speak at the Tory Party conference!"
Who does she mean by "us"? It is incredible how some people see the world as divided into "them" and "us". I can only presume that the Tories are "them" and the "us" are what she would describe as the "good people". This particular opponent has followed us from the beginning, always showing up at our events. It is amazing that her anger runs so deep that she should dedicate so much time and energy to trying to disrupt us.
After all, we're only trying to set up a school, one that will give inner-city families more choice in their children's education. What exactly is the problem?
Our critics continually insist that free schools take money away from local schools. That is simply not true. Schools get their money on a per pupil basis. First, when we were hoping to be in north Lambeth, our opponents insisted there was no shortage of places there (not true), and that the real problem for places was in the south of the borough. Now that we have a building right next to this problem area (in Wandsworth, but on the borders of Lambeth and Merton), they are saying there is no shortage here after all. Meanwhile, the mayor's office says there is such a shortage of places in London that schools will soon have to start teaching in shifts — as they are forced to do in many developing countries.
We are fast approaching the situation of the poorer countries of the world. In response some councils are hurriedly selling off the last of their old empty school buildings to prevent free schools, which might want to take them over, from opening. Thank goodness not all councils are like this. Wandsworth could not be more welcoming and supportive. But the truth is kept from those readers of certain newspapers that continue to be unsympathetic in their portrayal of free schools. It is a relief that the 79 groups that are to open free schools in September are ploughing on.