The future of state education? Inside LAE, the Eton (and Roedean, and Highgate) of the East End

Eight public schools are in charge of teaching subjects at a new sixth-form academy in one of London’s poorest boroughs

A big clue as to the ethos of the new London Academy of Excellence lies in the job description of its head teacher. Robert Wilne has deliberately styled himself “head master” of the sixth-form school in London’s East End – taking on the title adopted by the leaders of famous public schools such as Highgate and Westminster.

“We’re taking the very best from the independent school sector and the very best from the free-school movement and re-knitting all these together to create a new model of education,” he says in an interview with The Independent.

“I call myself head master – two words – to emphasise this, I suppose, but I wouldn’t be seen dead in a mortar board.”

LAE, as it is known, is a unique type of school, sponsored as it is by eight leading independent schools in the South-east including Eton College and Highgate School. Each of the eight takes responsibility for one subject area of the curriculum. Highgate is in charge of maths while Caterham School takes responsibility for modern languages.

The early indications are that the project is working, with this year’s AS-level students expected to score at least two grades higher on average than would have been predicted by their GCSE grades. There were also 630 applications for the 200 places on offer this September, so the school is expanding its intake to 220 to help meet the demand.

Mr Wilne, a first-time head who was previously in charge of maths teaching at Highgate, is enthusiastic about LAE’s future. “I was given the biggest blank sheet in education and I held all the chalk to fill it in,” he said.

Already the model is catching  on, with other heads interested in  setting up similar ventures in different parts of the country. “I want to see this idea spreading,” Mr Wilne says.

“I see no reason why there shouldn’t be similar schools in Birmingham, Manchester and other parts of the country. There is definitely interest.” He emphasises that LAE is “a sixth-form school”, not a college. The latter offer a range of different opportunities for students, from A-levels to vocational qualifications, whereas LAE offers a very bespoke curriculum.

Its pupils take A-levels in only the 12 subject areas that the elite Russell Group universities single out as those most likely to earn an applicant a place at one of their institutions. It also has a very strict uniform policy – a suit for boys – so that students dress in the manner that would be expected of them once they enter the world of work.

It has a house system, too, with the houses taking the names of the schools sponsoring the institution so there is every chance of a game between Eton and Highgate taking place on the playing fields of the LAE. (Actually, it does not have its own playing fields – situated as it is in the centre of Stratford – but it is almost next door to the Olympic stadium and has put in a bid to use its facilities from the start of the next school year.)

Setting up the school was the brainchild of Richard Cairns, of Brighton College, who already had a twinning arrangement with an 11 to 16 comprehensive in Newham whose brightest pupils were offered scholarships to board at his independent school to study for their A-levels.

It was recognised, though, that this only helped a handful of pupils – and that there was a need to provide more sixth-form opportunities for talented children, many of whom had to go outside Newham to study for A-levels.

Harmanpret Atwal, 17, found out about the school through a leaflet. “I don’t think anybody in my school had heard of it,” he said.

“I brought the leaflet to my school and asked if my head teacher could mention it at assembly.” As a result, around 20 of his fellow pupils applied for a place – 10 of them successfully.

“I looked at other options but nobody seemed able to offer me the subject options I wanted,” he said. “I think if I hadn’t come to LAE I wouldn’t have been able to develop such a deep love of my subjects. When I said what subjects I wanted to do here, nobody batted an eyelid.”

Eleanor Geoghegan, also 17, is one of three students to win a place at a summer school in the US, set up by the Sutton Trust education charity. “It just seemed like a good opportunity to come here,” she said. “I didn’t want to travel outside of the borough for sixth-form – I didn’t want to get up hours earlier and have to travel.

“Most local places I didn’t feel were going to be able to offer me the same level of support that I get here. Everybody here really wants to learn – and as a result there is less disruption than there was at my school.”

LAE is selective in the pupils it chooses, but it has a sophisticated points system to ensure that those who come from disadvantaged areas (determined through their post codes) or go to schools where few pupils go on to further study are given extra points in the selection system. All applicants have to go through an interview process.

Mr Wilne is anxious to stress that the independent sponsors of the school do not support it with any financial aid - it is a state-funded school, pure and simple. What they do is give the school their curricula so teachers can base their lessons around them.

On finance, his first year has been an eye-opener as it sank in that state institutions for 16- to 18-year-olds suffered in terms of funding.

“We have about 47 per cent of our students who were entitled to free school meals at the schools they came from – but you don’t get funding for that post-16,” he says. “That’s £900 per pupil a year I don’t get.”

It also means help with transport costs is restricted when planning school outings – cash which is vital for some of his students.

But with friends in high places supporting his project, Mr Wilne could soon become a very powerful ally in the campaign to secure equal funding for sixth-formers.

House rules: How it works

London Academy of Excellence is a sixth-form school in the East End borough of Newham, where poverty levels are high. It has eight partner schools, all leaders in the private sector: Brighton College, Caterham, City of London (Boys), Eton, Forest School, Highgate, King’s College, Wimbledon, and Roedean.

Each partner school takes responsibility for delivering one area of the curriculum (Highgate takes charge of maths). It also operates a house system, with each house taking the name of a partner school – so pupils at an East London state school could play in an Eton-versus-Brighton College football match.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower