Toby Young’s flagship academy trust ditches ‘free school’ from its name

Toby Young's flagship academy trust ditches 'free school' from its name

An academy trust set up by the long-standing free school advocate Toby Young has changed its name, dropping the term ‘free school’ in the process.

The West London Free School Academy Trust (WLFSAT) will now be known as the Knowledge Schools Trust.

The trust runs fours schools in west London, and is due to open a free school in Cambridge in 2021, with discussions ongoing over other new schools joining it.

Schools Week understands the trust wants to expand to run schools with a total of at least 10,000 pupils, and while it’s unclear how many schools that would mean, previous reports have suggested the trust would need nine to be “sustainable in the long term”.

Its founder Young, who is now a trustee after resigning as chief executive last year, said the change was made because the trust has “outgrown our west London roots”.

A vocal supporter of the government’s flagship free school policy, Young is now chief executive of the government-funded charity set up to help groups open free schools, the New Schools Network.

The term “knowledge” was chosen to reflect the trust’s focus on providing pupils a “classical liberal education”, which it describes as a “rigorous and extensive knowledge-based education”.

Young, alongside staff at the school including headteacher Hywel Jones and history teacher Robert Peal, are vocal supporters of knowledge-based learning.

Peal, a former speech writer to schools minister Nick Gibb, has also set up a new knowledge-based PGCE teacher training course, which launched this month.

The course’s website states learners will review evidence “calling into question popular but unproductive teaching methods”, including discovery-based learning, and minimal teacher guidance.

WLFSAT’s name change was agreed by members in June, and the resolution was published at Companies House last week.

The Guardian reported last year that the trust had been in merger talks amid tightening budgets with other chains, including Future Academies, set up by academies minster Lord Nash, but backed out.

The newspaper wrote that Young had approached 16 schools. However, Schools Week understands there has been no progress on any schools joining the trust.

WLFSAT has since appointed Ian Hunter as chief executive, a business consultant who was previously a local governing body chair and development director at the trust.