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7 February 2014, 17:18
A Derby Muslim free school branded chaotic and dysfunctional by Ofsted is to stop teaching secondary pupils from this summer.
The Government has stepped in after a damning inspection report at Derby's Al-Madinah school last year condemned the quality of teaching, the curriculum, and branded the relationship between senior leaders ``destructive and deteriorating''.
Echoing those views today, the newly appointed chair of governors Barry Day, brought in by the Department for Education (DfE) to turn the school around, said the blame lay squarely with the old trust board, which was replaced last week after failing to act. He said it was ``absolutely accurate'' to describe the operation of the school, which opened in September 2012, as amateur.
Schools minister Lord Nash said: ``I have come to the conclusion that it would simply not be in the interests of parents or pupils at the secondary school to continue to fund provision which has failed them in the manner now apparent.''
He said the move would allow the trust to focus on the primary school. Within a year the school was under investigation by the Education Funding Agency over alleged irregularities.
There have been claims it was imposing strict Islamic practices, such as forcing women to wear headscarves, and a temporary closure due to health and safety concerns. In October Ofsted branded the school ``dysfunctional'', prompting Lord Nash to announce that a new education trust was being brought in, but before Christmas inspectors reported that there was still ``no sign of improvement''.
Critics have held the situation up as an example of the problems with the coalition's flagship free schools policy. In a letter to the Al-Madinah Education Trust, Lord Nash said it was ``clear there is a great deal of work to do at the school''. ``I am particularly concerned at the poor quality of secondary teaching and the lack of breadth in the secondary curriculum,'' he wrote. ``I have decided it would be in the best interests of those children in the secondary school to continue their education elsewhere from this September onwards.''
A DfE spokesman said: ``The vast majority of free schools are performing well but where we have found failure we have acted swiftly and decisively. ``We have monitored Al-Madinah very closely since problems came to light last year. Based on the current situation we believe the new board - which began work last week - needs to focus efforts on the primary school in order to bring about the level of improvement required.
``The board has accepted our decision to close the secondary school and we have offered our full support in helping pupils to find alternative places before the start of the next academic year.''
Mr Day, who is also chief executive of the Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, said that the surrounding community still supported Al-Madinah but had been badly let down by the previous trustees, who failed to make improvements following the highly critical Ofsted report published late last year. He said shutting secondary provision would allow the trustees and staff to build the foundations of a good school, and eventually reopen doors to older pupils.
Mr Day added: ``The new trustees took over last Friday because the advice about what needed to be done in the school was being ignored by the previous trust and Lord Nash took that action so things could actually start moving.
``I think the closure is a real blow for the local community but it does give the new trust members the chance to turn things around.
``It is about laying the foundation and I believe because we can focus on building up a new primary for the next three-and-a-half years it now has a much greater chance of being successful.''
He said there were now less than 140 secondary pupils on the roll and the new governing body had been speaking with the council about finding alternative places for these youngsters. Mr Day said the dysfunction between the staff and management meant ``many of them (staff) felt they couldn't do their job because of interference by others''.
He added: ``Every single member of staff wants this school to be successful but there is absolutely no doubt that many of the staff are inexperienced, some of the staff are not qualified and all of them need additional training to make this work.'' Mr Day said his sympathies were with the parents and wider community who had invested a lot of support in the school. ``I believe they've been let down by the previous trustees - they're responsible for the position the school is in and it's up to myself and the new board and other experts that will come in to drive this forward,'' he said.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: ``This is more evidence that David Cameron's free school programme is damaging education standards in this country. ``Ofsted judged that Al-Madinah, one of the Prime Minister's flagship free schools, is completely dysfunctional. ``It has come to symbolise everything that is wrong with the free school programme: unqualified teachers in the classroom and a complete lack of local oversight of these schools. ``Despite the continuing evidence that this programme is damaging standards, the Tory-led government is happy to plough on.''
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ``Once again Education Secretary Michael Gove has a lot of questions to answer about his flagship free school policy. ``It is becoming increasingly apparent that the process for approving groups to open free schools is inadequate and that in his haste to open these schools, procedures for ensuring that providers deliver the highest standards of education are not in place. ``The free school programme must be paused so that the lessons of troubled schools such as the Discovery Free School, Al-Madinah and the King's Science Academy can be learned. ``Free schools should be brought within the responsibility of their local authority to ensure proper oversight of both their governance and the standard of education they offer.''