Inspection row: Parents demand Education Secretary visit Sunderland free school

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan
Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan
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FAMILIES angered by a decision to place Sunderland’s only free school in special measures have demanded education secretary Nicky Morgan visits Wearside to see the progress made by pupils.

Around 250 parents have written to her in the wake of a damning Ofsted report which branded Grindon Hall Christian School inadequate.

More than 500 parents and carers gathered in the school’s hall for a meeting on Thursday night to rally around staff and pupils.

Parents said some children were left in tears over the report by the education watchdog following a visit in November, which criticised the school’s leadership and management and behaviour and safety of pupils.

The Ofsted report 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”.

Principal Chris Gray, who had previously made an official complaint to Ofsted about the ‘hostile’ and ‘inappropriate’ way children were questioned during the November inspection, said there was a huge amount of support for the school, in Nookside.

Dr Tim Dunnett, who has four children at the school, Hannah, 12, Caleb, ten, Elijah, eight, and six-year-old Matthew, chaired the parents’ meeting and said at least 40 people stood up to speak in favour of the school.

He said: “There was absolute disbelief and outrage about the report and we discussed how we can put this injustice right.

“A lot of teachers in Sunderland send their own children to Grindon Hall. In the hall were headteachers and even two or three former Ofsted inspectors, who all said the report is outrageous.”

In March last year, Grindon Hall was inspected and rated as good in all but one category, in September a follow-up visit said the school was making good progress, yet by November the Ofsted inspectors decided it needed putting in special measures.

Mr Gray said: “We are unclear as to how an encouraging letter in September can turn into special measures within eight weeks.

“We maintain that Ofsted has over-stepped the mark, has asked inappropriate questions of our children and has exceeded its remit. In doing so, it has misrepresented our parents, our pupils and our school.

“One of the recurring themes in the messages of support we have received is that it’s about time someone stood up to Ofsted. It’s a pity that that’s had to be little Grindon Hall, an isolated free school on the North East coast. But we have done so – and the support we’ve gleaned has been overwhelming.”

Geoff Lethbridge, whose son Jacob is in Year 7 at Grindon Hall, is one of the parents who has written to Nicky Morgan to express his anger.

In the letter, he said: “I would like to express my sincere disgust at how Ofsted and also your department have handled the situation at Grindon Hall. The criticism of children at the school as racist and homophobic is nothing more than slanderous.”

A spokesman for Ofsted said the allegations made by the school are now subject to Ofsted’s formal complaints procedures and will be thoroughly investigated in accordance with Ofsted’s published policy.

He added: “To date, we have found no evidence to indicate that inspectors failed to act with care and sensitivity and to ask age-appropriate questions when they spoke to pupils, as they are trained to do.”