Students stand when a teacher enters the room, low level disruptive behaviour is not tolerated and pupils sit in rows facing the front. If this sounds like a grammar school circa 1950 it will surprise you to know that, in fact, this school was established in 2011 as one of the country’s first free schools.
West London Free School prides itself on offering a traditional, knowledge-based curriculum and is popular with parents looking for a classical, grammar school-style education for their children. Latin is compulsory until 14, terms are called Michaelmas, Lent and Trinity and students are expected to read 25 quality books during their time in the lower school. There is a strong emphasis on competition, especially in sports, as well as a broad programme of extra-curricular activities.
Is this a university library I see before me?
The school’s first sixth form intake arrived in September 2016 and is based in Franklin House, a converted four storey office block just around the corner from the main school. Walk into its brand-new library and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re at an elite university. With its sombre tones, dark grey soft seating reading booths enlivened with a daring dash of yellow, to the individual reading lights poised over dark veneered desks alongside rows and rows of books; this looks and feels like a place designed for serious study. And that was exactly the plan.
Headteacher, Hywel Jones, explains, “We wanted a sixth form library that looked and felt like something you’d find at a Russell Group university: individual study spaces, reading lamps, minimal ICT and a clear priority placed on books. It’s all about preparing our students for the next phase, to ease their transition to university or into a profession by familiarising them with serious, formal spaces. When students come into the library they work calmly and quietly, there’s a lovely settled feel. It’s definitely not a social space – it’s somewhere to focus on your work.”
Going by the book
“You hear of some schools removing all the books from their library, which I think is crazy,” continued Mr Jones. “Being able to use a library and access quality knowledge through books is an important skill. We place great emphasis on reading. The other day it was raining so everyone stayed in during break. I walked through the school and every single student had their nose in a book.”
As well as using their new library for supervised, timetabled study, students often visit during independent study time as well as before and after school because it’s a warm, comfortable place to work. At a recent parents’ evening many visitors remarked on how attractive and calm the library is and how much it reflects a high-end academic institution.
The library is a clear expression of the school’s traditional ethos, but it was difficult to find a designer who understood the brief.
“We are something of an outlier in our approach and we found most contractors wanted to deliver what they usually deliver, rather than interpreting the brief,” explains Hywel Jones. “Spaceoasis were a long way in front in terms of understanding where were coming from and what we wanted, right down to the colour schemes and finishes. We are delighted with how it has turned out.”