Durham Free School was ‘a haven for every crap teacher in the North-East’, MP tells Commons debate

Failed Durham Free School (DFS) was a “haven for every crap teacher in the North-East”, a Commons debate was told last night.

Ministers were told that staff who had left other nearby schools – after “competency procedures” – had been given new jobs at the controversial Durham City secondary.

The allegation came as city MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said most people fighting its closure – ordered by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, last week – had “no direct knowledge of the school”.

Instead, they were relying on “very selective comments from the Ofsted report”, amid a national newspaper campaign claiming the watchdog is “waging war on Christian schools”.

In fact, Ms Blackman-Woods said, DFS had been “rated inadequate across all categories” – which was “highly unusual even for a free school”.

But, in reply, schools minister Nick Gibb defended the decision to open DFS, in September 2013, insisting it had passed “rigorous” tests set by the Department for Education (Dfe).

He told MPs:

“We were satisfied that the governing structure had the capability to deliver an outstanding education to its pupils.”

The debate was held eight days after the Education Secretary sprung a surprise by announcing DFS would be shut because “what Ofsted found is enough to shock any parent”.

Some parents and teachers have launched a “save our school” campaign – rejecting the criticisms – and have until next Tuesday to persuade Ms Morgan to change her mind.

But, in the Commons, North West Durham MP Pat Glass said:

“I was aware that there were very high levels of teachers working at Durham Free School that had already been through competency procedures with other local authorities.

“A head teacher in the region told me that the school had become a haven for every crap teacher in the North-East – that’s what he said to me.”

And Ms Blackman-Woods set out in detail the school’s key failings, which had made the closure decision “obvious”. They were that:

* “Students’ achievement is weak”.

* “Leaders, including governors, do not have high enough expectations of students or teachers”.

* “Governors place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff”

* “Teaching is inadequate over time”.

* “Teachers’ assessment of students’ work is inaccurate and marking is weak”.

* “The behaviour of some students leads to unsafe situations”.

The Durham City MP said the school had promised to be “caring”, but added: “It had moved from being caring to possibly scary for those young people.”

Of 43 letters she had received opposing the closure, only 18 had come from parents at the school.

Mr Gibb said DFS had received “£840,000-odd of revenue and capital funding” for its 92 pupils – plus a ‘pupil premium’ top-up for poorer youngsters.

Source –  Durham Times,  28 Jan 2015

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