Inspectors claim Sunderland free school failed to tackle bullying over sexuality and race

Grindon Hall
Grindon Hall
Have your say

SCHOOL watchdog Ofsted has claimed a Sunderland free school failed to tackle “prejudice-based bullying.”

The inspection body has released its full findings after controversially placing Grindon Hall Christian School in special measures.

The move sparked an angry reaction from parents and staff, with headteacher Chris Gray accusing authorities of “playing politics” with children’s education.

He also claimed inspectors asked children inappropriate questions about sex and religion during the inspection.

Ofsted, however, said it had acted after discovering serious failings at the school.

In a statement, a spokesman said: “In judging Grindon Hall to require special measures, Her Majesty’s Inspectors found school leaders had not acted with sufficient urgency to address weaknesses identified from recent serious safeguarding incidents that took place during the summer term and, as a result, some pupils told inspectors they did not feel safe.

“Inspectors found that the curriculum was not adequately preparing pupils for life in modern Britain and that pupils were not being taught to develop appropriate levels of respect or tolerance for those from other faiths and communities.

“Prejudice-based bullying and the use of derogatory language relating to race or sexual orientation were not being tackled effectively enough by school leaders.”

Ofsted went on to say it had found the school was failing in its leadership, safety and teaching.

A spokesman said: “The school is judged to require special measures after receiving an inadequate grade for its overall effectiveness as well as for its leadership and management, the behaviour and safety of its pupils and for its sixth form provision. For the quality of teaching, achievement of pupils and its early years provision, the school is judged to require improvement.

The watchdog also said it had so far found no evidence its inspectors had not behaved appropriately during the inspection.

A spokesman said: “The principal of Grindon Hall has written to Ofsted, copied to the media, to make a number of serious allegations about the conduct of the inspection team and the manner of their questioning of pupils.

“These allegations, which were not brought to the attention of Her Majesty’s Inspectors during the course of the inspection, are now subject to Ofsted’s formal complaints procedures and will be thoroughly investigated in accordance with Ofsted’s published policy.

“However, it is important to assure the public, parents, pupils and other schools that we have undertaken a detailed examination of the evidence base, interviewed each of the three Her Majesty’s Inspectors who carried out the inspection and have held a separate meeting between the principal and Ofsted’s North East Regional Director in respect of these allegations.

“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.”

He added: “Grindon Hall is one of four schools in the North East of England that Ofsted inspected at the same time last term.

“The main focus of these inspections, which followed a direction from the Secretary of State for Education, was to establish whether the curriculum at each of these schools was suitably broad and balanced and whether leaders were ensuring that students were being adequately prepared for life in modern Britain.

“In two of these schools, Emmanuel College in Gateshead and Bede Academy in Blyth, inspectors found no concerns. The letters following these inspection visits are published on the Ofsted website.

“The inspection report for the third school, Durham Free School, was published at the start of this week. This school was also judged to require special measures and judged to be inadequate against every criteria.”

The Durham Free School “allowed sexually-derogative and homophobic terms”

Ofsted has also defended its decision to place The Durham Free School in special measures.

A spokesman said: “Since the school was previously inspected in March 2014 and judged to require improvement, inspectors found there had also been a sharp decline in the proportion of students achieving 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C grade including English and mathematics.

“Children in the primary phase were making poor progress, especially in writing, where progress is amongst the lowest in England at Key Stage 2. Inspectors also found that leaders had not acted to address the issues identified in the March inspection and were relying too much on an external consultant to write the school improvement plan.

“Ofsted is also aware that allegations have been made in the last 48 hours about the conduct of Her Majesty’s Inspectors who inspected Durham Free School and a suggestion that findings on whether pupils were being prepared for life in modern Britain were based on comments made to inspectors by a single pupil.

“The school did not raise any of these issues with Ofsted at any point either during the inspection visit or during the various moderation and pre-publication stages, despite having had every opportunity to do so.

“For the record, Ofsted would like to make clear that in reaching their conclusions about the effectiveness of the school’s work in preparing students for life in modern Britain, inspectors considered a wide range of evidence. Discussions with students formed just a part of the evidence that was gathered.

“Inspectors found that senior staff at Durham Free School had allowed a culture to develop where it was acceptable for racist words and sexually derogative and homophobic terms to be used. Leaders were failing to properly tackle or challenge this type of language and behaviour.”