As one of the sponsors for the opening of the West London Free School last Friday, members of the education team made their way over to Hammersmith to support Headmaster, Tom Packer, and Toby Young in welcoming the Mayor of London and other dignitaries in officially opening the school.
The opening was a proud day for all involved and we look forward to supporting West London Free School, in conjunction with our partner European Electronique, for many years to come.
For a heartfelt overview from Toby Young on his experience of open the school, please see below for a copy of his Telegraph blog post covering the event:
Boris Johnson opens West London Free School on the proudest day of my life
I'm writing this from the headmaster's office at the West London Free School which was officially opened this morning by the Mayor of London. Miraculously, the whole ceremony went off without a hitch – even our hastily cobbled together curtain-pulling mechanism worked. Boris gave a brilliant speech, praising our school as one of the first taxpayer-funded schools to be set up by a group of parents and teachers, and expressing the hope that other parents and teachers will follow in our footsteps. He paid particular tribute to the Secretary of State for Education and said he'd added a new inflection to the verb "to give": We give, they gave, he gove. "He gove us these fantastic free schools," he said.
We've had a great beginning of term here at the school. I joined the pupils for a fantastic day out at Priory Farm in Surrey on Wednesday where they got to fire catapults, make fires and build rafts. It was straight out of the Dangerous Book for Boys, except that the girls joined in as enthusiastically as the boys.
Yesterday, we had a run-through of our opening ceremony in the school assembly hall, and then our Director of Music, Mr Watkins, took the pupils off to St Paul's Church in Hammersmith, where they practised the song they sung this morning for the benefit of the Mayor and our other guests. Mr Watkins also organised an inter-form singing competition in which each of the five forms that make up Year 7 learnt a different Abba song. The competition was judged by Dr Elisabeth Cook, head of academic development and undergraduate programmes at the Royal College of Music, and, I'm happy to say, a governor of the school. It was heartwarming to see so many parents sitting at the back – we really couldn't hope for a more supportive or enthusiastic group.
Then today we had our official opening. We had a mad scramble last night to try and collate all the RSVPs that have been coming in, inserting a code in the Excel spreadsheet so our ushers would know where to seat people – front of stage, named seats, reserved section, etc. Needless to say, it turned into a bit of a scrum this morning and I was terrified that Stephen Cowan, the leader of the Labour group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, would end up in the press pen at the back. If that did happen, I may have my work cut out persuading him it was a ***-up rather than a conspiracy. In truth, he's been very supportive of the school.
The headmaster, Mr Packer, was the master of ceremonies, welcoming everyone and calling all the VIPs and dignitaries by their proper titles. In addition to the Mayor of London, we had the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, the Mayor of Ealing, a couple of MPs (Ed Vaizey and Angie Bray), the Leader of the Council and numerous Councillors and officials. As a former Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve, Mr Packer is very polished on these sorts of occasions. I then got up and made a speech, followed by the children singing 'Wade in the Water', which they pulled off remarkably well, then Boris was his usual funny, ebullient self.
The most memorable bit was at the end when Mr Packer, the Mayor and I were surrounded by the children for a group photograph. I think it meant a good deal to them that Boris opened the school – they all shook his hand – and it meant a great deal to us, too. The fact that everything went off so smoothly was a tribute to our administrative staff, particularly Jeremy Willes, our excellent site manager, and the whole occasion couldn't have taken place without the generous sponsorship of Apollo, our builders, Sodexo, our caterers, European Electronique, our IT provider, and Microsoft, one of our education partners.
This was one of the proudest days of my life, but I'm sure there will be many more days on which the West London Free School makes me feel just as proud.