Founders of Sunderland Christian school resign in takeover row

Grindon Hall Christian School
Grindon Hall Christian School
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Three founders of a Wearside Christian school have resigned over fears it will lose the original ethos in takeover.

Elizabeth Gray, John Burn and John Murray, who were among the original founders of Grindon Hall Christian School, believe the faith ethos and the pupils’ outstanding exam performances will not survive a takeover by a sponsor.

John Burn, one of the founders of Grindon Hall Christian School.

John Burn, one of the founders of Grindon Hall Christian School.

The free school was put into special measures following a controversial Ofsted inspection in November 2014 and the Department of Education later instructed the school to be taken over by multi academy trust, Bright Tribe, despite objections from founders and parents.

Mrs Gray and Mr Burn said they felt they had no choice but to resign and are calling on the Department of Education to look into how the faith ethos of schools can be preserved when they are taken over by a multi academy trust and to provide similar legal protections to those enjoyed by Anglican and Roman Catholic schools in the same situation.

In a letter to Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, the founders expressed their “deep concern for the future of education and wellbeing of the students” under the new sponsor.

Mr Burn, who was awarded an OBE in 1994 for services to education, said: “When we wrote to Lord Nash last September we raised our concerns that Bright Tribe had never run a school with a faith ethos. At Grindon Hall it has always been the Christian foundation that we and parents believe underpinned the school’s success and popularity.”

It felt like Ofsted had been ordered to find fault

John Burn

Mrs Gray said: “Many children have benefitted over the years from the school’s strong academic education and Christian approach.

“It’s very sad that the school we founded and which has gone on to be so popular with parents, including many who are not Christian, is being undermined.”

She said the school is being forced down a secular route and there will be no-one to effectively guard the ethos.

Mr Burn added: “We’ve ended up in this position because of the discredited 2014 Ofsted inspection which the DfE commissioned.

Elizabeth Gray, founder of Grindon Hall Christian School.

Elizabeth Gray, founder of Grindon Hall Christian School.

“It felt like Ofsted had been ordered to find fault with the school by the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. Their report was flatly contradicted by the excellent exam results, and the testimonies of parents.”

Chairman of governors at Grindon Hall, Neil Kell, said: “Working with the Department for Education and their recommended sponsor represented the best option available to us to ensure the continued existence of the school.

“We have worked closely with all parties since then to ensure that our Christian ethos, as part of a multi-academy trust, is underpinned by the same legal protection it had as a free school.”

He said they are currently recruiting for a permanent principal and each candidate interviewed was a practising Christian and were questioned on how they would go about retaining the Christian ethos of the school.