A SENIOR councillor has waded into the argument over Sunderland’s only free school, saying the city council has ‘serious and significant’ concerns about problems at Grindon Hall Christian School.
Coun Pat Smith, the Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for children and learning, said that although it has no formal powers to intervene, it will work with the school for the sake of the children.
Coun Smith was responding to a question at this week’s meeting of the full council in which Labour colleague, Coun Ellen Ball, asked for an update about events.
The school hit the headlines after an Ofsted inspection in November judged it to be inadequate in its overall effectiveness, as well as for its leadership, behaviour and safety of pupils and its sixth form provision. In other areas it was judged to require improvement, and the school was placed under special measures.
“The Ofsted inspection judgement, coupled with the financial issues at the school, are of serious and significant concern for this council in its role as an advocate for all the children and young people in Sunderland,” Coun Smith said.
“The council has no legal or formal role with the free school and the school has a direct relationship with the Department for Education. It is not possible for the council to formally intervene in the free school, in relation to either the Ofsted inspection or its financial matters.
“However, the council will continue to work with the school, DfE and Ofsted in order to secure the best outcomes possible from the current serious situation for all of our children and young people.”
One of the criticisms of inspectors, included the school’s failure to tackle prejudice-based bullying and derogatory language relating to race and sexual orientation.
They also slammed the sharp decline in the numbers of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths and said pupils in the primary phase are making poor progress.
Headteacher Chris Gray has since complained to Ofsted about how November’s inspection was carried out. However, Coun Smith said: “The complaints procedure does not alter the fact that the school is judged inadequate.”
Coun Smith’s comments come as a delegation of 200 parents and children from the school were due to travel to London as part of the Action for Grindon Hall campaign, to hand a petition to Downing Street.
The parents are hoping to meet Education Minister Nicky Morgan to express their concerns over Ofsted’s handling of matters relating to the school.