Head hits back after Sunderland free school branded ‘inadequate’

IN SPECIAL MEASURES: Grindon Hall Christian School.
IN SPECIAL MEASURES: Grindon Hall Christian School.
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A HEADTEACHER has slammed education watchdogs after Sunderland’s only free school was put into special measures.

After their latest visit to Grindon Hall Christian School, Ofsted inspectors said the school’s leadership and management, sixth form provision and behaviour and safety of pupils are inadequate.

The quality of teaching, early years provision and achievement of pupils all require improvement, Ofsted said.

In its findings, the report also said the school’s curriculum “does not adequately prepare pupils for life in modern Britain” and that “pupils show a lack of respect and tolerance towards those who belong to different faiths, cultures or communities”.

However, their damning verdict was attacked by the school’s principal Chris Gray, who said it “defies all common sense and logic” and said he would be lodging an official complaint.

The inspection, which took place in late November, saw inspectors visit 37 lessons and speak to 58 pupils from Year 2 to Year 13.

Ofsted officials also visited assemblies and spoke to staff, governors and parents, both in person and via an online questionnaire.

Grindon Hall, a former private school, which caters for 590 students aged four to 18, opened as a state-funded free school in September 2012.

In March 2014, an inspection said the school required improvement, but in September last year a follow-up monitoring visit stated senior leaders and governors were taking effective action.

Only last week, the Echo reported how Mr Gray had lodged an official complaint with Ofsted over how the school watchdog crossed the line in the way it questioned its pupils.

He said: “In the days after the inspection, several parents complained to me about what they saw as intrusive and deeply personal questioning of their children in some group sessions.

“I heard reports of primary schoolchildren being asked if they knew of any boys or girls who thought they were in the wrong body and others if they knew what gay and lesbians did.”

The school was also in the news after it was told to improve its financial management after turning to the Government for help balancing the books.

School bosses were served with a notice to improve after requesting support from the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

“We are proud of this school” – Statement from Chris Gray, principal at Grindon Hall Christian School

“We are grateful for the many messages of support that we have received from our pupils and parents, and from people around the country.

“The Ofsted report issued to us will come as a huge shock to our parents, pupils and staff because they – along with anyone who knows us – will not recognise the school portrayed there.

“It is now well known that the manner in which inspectors questioned our pupils in November was hostile, inappropriate and raises serious safeguarding issues.

“To issue a report that grades the best performing secondary state-funded school in Sunderland (latest published GCSE results) as the worst defies all common sense and logic.

“Pupils, parents and staff are deeply concerned that, because of the widely-reported breakdown of trust between the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted, schools like Grindon Hall are being caught in the crossfire.

“Playing politics with the new regulations on ‘British values’ is not acceptable and does little to help our children prepare for life or achieve good exam results.

“We are proud of our school and its staff. We have a Christian ethos which our parents love.

“We take any criticism seriously and aspire to the highest standards for our pupils. We continually strive to be better, but this report, prompted by the new ‘British Values’ rules, lacks any sense of proportion.

“Many have criticized the subjectivity and unreliability of Ofsted reports, including Ofsted’s own national director for schools.

“Anyone who places our May 2014 Ofsted report alongside the January 2015 report would think they were talking about two different schools.

“Under our funding agreement and the law, we have a duty to prioritise the teaching of the Christian faith. At the same time, we make sure our children respect people of all faiths and none.

“The questioning by inspectors makes clear that their idea of a balanced curriculum is for us to force pupils to celebrate non-Christian religious festivals. This would breach our Christian foundation which stipulates that we are a Christian school.

“No one should be told by a government official to celebrate any religion. Learn about it, yes. Celebrate its festivals, no.

“Inspectors criticized our recruitment processes. We commissioned an independent audit of our systems before the March 2014 inspection and they were approved without a problem. The March Ofsted report said safeguarding was good.

“I made a formal complaint to Ofsted on 11 December, stating that the inspection was negative and hostile. I have not received a reply.

“I also submitted a factual error report to Ofsted last week. It is disappointing that of the 13 errors raised, only three of them have been addressed in the final report.

“Regrettably, one change Ofsted did make which we did not want was to take out a positive reference to how our grades in 2014 ‘fared well against a similar dip nationally’.

“Ofsted removed a paragraph from the draft report stating: ‘The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision. This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum.’

“This phrase revealed unwarranted skepticism on the part of the inspection team about our Christian ethos.

“I will be submitting a formal complaint under the usual procedures now that the report has been issued.”