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”.
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”.
* “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
A committee of MPs will today call for tougher rules before the setting up of ‘free schools’, to prevent a repeat of the Durham Free School fiasco.
The Department For Education (DFE) is urged to impose stronger checks before giving the go-ahead in areas with surplus places and a large number of outstanding, existing schools.
And it is told to publish the impact on neighbouring schools – not only when an application is made, but after a free school is opened.
The recommendations go to the heart of criticism of Durham Free School (DFS), which has been condemned as inadequate by watchdog Ofsted and will close within months.
Critics, led by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City’s Labour MP, argue DFS should never have been opened, in September 2013, and is a scandalous waste of money.
It attracted only about 90 pupils – in a city with high-quality schools, with empty places – and was expected to take another eight years to reach its target size of 630.
And it angered local people by opening temporarily in the former home of Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate, which had been controversially closed amid budget cuts.
The saga will be raised in the Commons tonight, in a debate led by Ms Blackman-Woods, who will demand that ministers reveal the full financial details behind the DFS failure.
Ministers are also under pressure to come clean about the role of Michael Gove’s former adviser, Durham-born Dominic Cummings, and his mother, in establishing the school.
Before that debate, today’s report by the Conservative-led education committee also accuses the Government of “exaggerating the success” of academies and free schools.
“We are saying the DFE needs to look very carefully before it agrees to set up a free school in an area that already has sufficient good places and good schools.
“Durham Free School was a waste of public money – £4m was thrown away – and Michael Gove did absolutely nothing about it.”
Free schools have the same freedoms as academies, but have been typically set up the charitable arms of private firms, or groups of parents, or teachers.
There are now 1,884 secondary academies (60 per cent of the total) and 2,299 primaries (13 per cent), after outstanding schools were encouraged to convert.
Source – Durham Times, 27 Jan 2015
> Another victory for privatised education…
Education chiefs have put the second North East free school into special measures in a fresh blow to the government’s flagship schools policy.
Following their latest visit to Grindon Hall Christian School, in Sunderland, Ofsted inspectors said the school is inadequate and needs to urgently improve the quality and impact of leaders.
The news comes less than 24 hours after Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced Durham Free School is to close following an equally damning Ofsted report.
Both schools have been heavily criticised by inspectors for failing to help students understand “British values” or “prepare them for life in modern Britain”.
However, parents and staff at both schools have vehemently defended the institutions and accused Ofsted of getting it wrong.
Headteacher at Grindon Hall, Chris Gray, who recently made an official complaint to Ofsted about the ‘hostile’ questioning of pupils, said the report lacks any sense of proportion.
“The Ofsted report issued to us today will come as a huge shock to our parents, pupils and staff because they – along with anyone who knows us – will not recognise the school portrayed there.
“To issue a report that grades the best performing secondary state-funded school in Sunderland (latest published GCSE results) as the worst defies all common sense and logic.
“We take any criticism seriously and aspire to the highest standards for our pupils. We continually strive to be better, but this report, prompted by the new “British Values” rules, lacks any sense of proportion.”
More than 30 parents gathered at Durham Free School on Tuesday in a fight to keep their problem-hit school from closing.
After a two-day visit in November, Ofsted inspectors rated the school, which is currently advertising for a new headteacher, inadequate in all areas.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said children at Durham Free School were being “let down by a catalogue of failures” with no “imminent prospect of improvement”.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Mrs Morgan confirmed the Coalition government will close the school and will work with the local authority to ensure every child is found a place at another local school.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Jan 2015