Durham free school launches legal fight

The Durham Free School pupils with their letters objecting to the closure of their school.
The Durham Free School pupils with their letters objecting to the closure of their school.
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A trouble-hit Durham school is challenging the legality of moves to axe its funding.

The trust which runs The Durham Free School is calling for the Secretary of State for Education to step aside from the decision making process about the school’s future.

It was thrown into turmoil last month when Education Secretary Nicky Morgan confirmed she had terminated the Durham Free School’s funding agreement.

She told the ministers there was no imminent prospect of improvement at the school, which was placed in special measures by Ofsted.

However, lawyers representing the trust have penned an 18-page letter to Ms Morgan saying it has “no confidence” in her ability “to make a fair, proportionate and lawful final decision”.

They say evidence indicates her decision-making is “tainted with bias” and her “mind is closed” as to the school’s prospects.

The school’s trust board says it is reserving its right to call for a Judicial Review of the case and questions if the decision to serve a notice of intention to terminate the school’s funding agreement was made lawfully.

The letter forms part of the school’s case for a reprieve, along with a formal complaint about the conduct of Ofsted.

More than 3,500 people have signed petitions to save the school and pupils have written personal letters to the Secretary of State giving their reasons for keeping it open.

The trust’s letter says Ms Morgan’s statement that the school had been “troubled for some time” is contradicted by a report following a monitoring inspection last June in which it was described as an “orderly, caring and well managed community” and where “the behaviour of students was of a high order”.

In his formal complaint about the conduct of Ofsted, chairman of governors at The Durham Free School, John Denning, says inspectors breached inspection rules.

He said: “Since publication of the report a number of pupils have come forward to their teachers to report that they were asked questions by inspectors which made them feel uncomfortable.”

Mr Denning also questions the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s claim that the allegations had been “investigated very thoroughly” when no-one from Ofsted had contacted the school to investigate.

A spokesman for the Department for Education, which has consistently said it remains Ms Morgan’s intention to close The Durham Free School, said a decision would be announced “in due course”.

The trust wants a response to its points within seven days.