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
Children are being taught in toilets and cupboards in North East schools due to overcrowding, it has emerged.
One Northumberland school is turning pupils away and being forced to teach children in make-shift classrooms, including the garden shed.
Central First School in Ashington, which bought a double decker bus on eBay for use as a temporary classroom last year, is finding new means of teaching its ever-growing pupil population.
Principal David Godfrey said:
“We’ve had to turn toilets and cupboards into working spaces.
“We’ve had to turn structures outside into working areas for displaying artwork and for teaching the STEM subjects.
“We have a very good reputation as a school and we’re full to capacity. Regrettably we’re having to turn pupils away.”
The news comes as parents rush to meet the deadline for primary school applications this week.
However, more than 80 schools across the North East are overcrowded.
North councils have revealed that almost one in five primary schools have more pupils than they have capacity for – forcing many children into large classes or temporary, make-shift classrooms.
In parts of the region, more than a third of primary schools are currently over capacity.
The figures were provided by local councils in response to Freedom of Information requests from the Labour Party.
Labour claim they show a desperate need for more school places – and accuse the Government of pumping money into new free schools at the expense of existing schools.
Free schools were introduced by the Coalition government and are free from local council control.
Mr Godfrey said more funding is needed for oversubscribed schools to either extend their classrooms or re-build from scratch.
“I think there has to be more funding,” he said. “Especially now the Government introduced free education to two-year-olds from low income families.
“Schools are having to accommodate this quota without any investment from central Government in the existing buildings.”
There are nine primary schools in North Tyneside which currently have more pupils than the official capacity – 36 per cent of the total, or more than one in three.
There are also two secondary schools in the area which are over capacity.
In South Tyneside, 11 primary schools are over capacity, just under a quarter of the total, as well as two secondary schools.
County Durham has 28 primary schools and five secondary schools which operating above capacity, while Newcastle has six overcrowded primary schools and two secondaries, and Northumberland has four primary schools operating above capacity. Figures for Sunderland were not available.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“David Cameron is irresponsibly diverting millions away from children in areas with a shortage of school places in order to fund his pet project Free Schools programme in areas where there are already enough places.
“This is affecting school standards and creating a classroom squeeze, with more infants being crammed into large classes and pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms.
“Unlike this Tory-led Government, Labour has the right priorities for raising school standards. We will prioritise new school places in areas where there are shortages, have rigorous local oversight of schools and ensure that all teachers have or are working towards qualified teacher status.”
Four out of five free schools opened last year did not fill all their places.
Responses to Freedom of Information requests, also filed by Labour, showed that 83 per cent of Free Schools that opened in 2014 had not filled all their places at the start of the first term.
Only seven of the16 new mainstream secondary Free Schools opened last year were full.
Conservative Education Minister Nick Gibb said:
“This government has had to deal with an unprecedented increase in demand for school places. We have only been able to do this because of the tough decisions we have taken as part of our long-term economic plan to get the economy back on track.
“As a result, we have protected the school budget from cuts, invested an extra £5 billion to create new school places and spent £18 billion to improve school buildings across the country. Indeed, one of the first decisions we took in 2010 was to double the amount of money allocated to creating new school places.
“By contrast, the last Labour Government cut funding for school places during a baby boom while allowing immigration to get out of control, and wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on their failed ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015