One of the Government’s flagship free schools, which has been declared failing, is to close at Easter, it has been announced.
Durham Free School was told last month that its funding agreement would be terminated if it failed to swiftly come up with an action plan to raise standards.
While I know this decision will mean some upheaval for those pupils still in attendance, I am confident that it is the right thing to doEducation Secretary Nicky Morgan
A fresh letter, published today, says that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan does not believe that the Trust running the school has shown enough evidence that it can bring about improvements.
The Free School, which has a Christian ethos and opened in September 2013 with just 94 pupils, received a highly critical Ofsted report after an inspection at the end of last year.
Inspectors gave it the lowest ratings for leadership. teaching, behaviour and achievement, placing it in special measures.
The watchdog warned that governors put too much emphasis on religion credentials when recruiting staff as well as concluding that the school was failing to prepare pupils for modern Britain.
In response the school questioned many of Ofsted’s findings, including around preparing pupils for life in modern Britain, and said it was taking advice.
At the time, Mrs Morgan told the Commons she was concerned to find that children had been let down “by a catalogue of failures”, adding “because I do not think there’s any imminent prospect of improvement the regional schools commissioner has today written to the school informing them that I have decided to terminate their funding agreement”.
Today’s letter, signed by Janet Renou, regional schools commissioner for the North, and addressed to chair of governors John Denning, says: “Having considered the academy trust’s representations, the Secretary of State does not consider that you have provided sufficient evidence to show that the academy trust has the capacity or a suitable strategy to bring about the necessary improvements at Durham Free School.”
The representations put forward did not full demonstrate that the Trust is seriously addressing weaknesses in areas such as safeguarding pupils, poor attendance, quality of teaching and dealing with a “culture of intolerance of people who have different faiths, values or beliefs.”
The letter goes on to say: “In short, your representations have not convinced the Secretary of State that the current governing body and leadership team have the capability to turn the school around swiftly so that it will give its pupils an acceptable standard of education.”
It concludes: “We have given careful thought to the effect on pupils of having to move to another school; and we have sought to keep any disruption to a minimum by liaising with Durham County Council (DCC) regarding provision of alternative school places. With this in mind, the Secretary of State has set the date for termination at the end of the spring term.”
In a statement, Mr Denning said: “It is important that parents are informed by the school of the content of the Regional School’s Commissioner letter, and that is our priority at this time. The trust is also consulting its legal advisers.”
Staff have been preparing for a monitoring visit by Ofsted inspectors that has been scheduled to take place tomorrow, the school said.
Mrs Morgan said: “After carefully considering all of the issues and representations I have received, I have taken the decision to proceed with the closure of Durham Free School.
“The Department for Education operates on the basis that the interests of children must come first and it is clear that the school is not delivering the high standard of education that parents and I expect. It is also clear that there is no imminent prospect of improvement and I am not prepared to let any child remain in a failing school.
“While I know this decision will mean some upheaval for those pupils still in attendance, I am confident that it is the right thing to do. We are already working with the local authority to ensure every child is found a suitable place at another local school.”
Durham is the third free school to face closure after having its funding agreement terminated.
The announcement is likely to be seen as a fresh blow to the free schools programme, which is one of the Coalition government’s flagship education policies.
Mrs Morgan has previously insisted that one of the ‘’great strengths’’ of the scheme is that failure can be identified and dealt with quickly.