A free school founded on Christian values is to close after a damning Ofsted found it ‘inadequate’ in all areas.
Durham Free School only opened 18 months ago with a total of 94 pupils and will now lose its government funding.
“The curriculum does not help students to understand fundamental British values or prepare them well for life in modern Britain. For example, until very recently the religious studies curriculum was too narrow and did not give students enough opportunities to learn about different faiths and beliefs. Consequently, students’ understanding of different faiths and beliefs is sketchy with some holding prejudiced views which are not challenged.”
A rigidity undermined efforts to tackle bullying and discrimination. The report also found that students’ lacked the proper respect and understanding of cultures outside their own. Student behaviour, especially on buses, caused Ofsted inspectors a cause for concern. Bullying proved a major problem and resulted in a high level of fixed-term exclusions (last year nearly 18 per cent of students were subjected to this form of exclusions).
At a governance level, Ofsted criticised the recruitment of staff based on religious beliefs over the merits of their qualifications.
More details of the decision to shut the school are emerging – an hour after staff were told they had two weeks to appeal a funding a cut a decision was then taken to shut the school. A signature in support of the school is gaining support online. The free school is now considering legal options and that includes a judicial review.
Staff and parents were angered that inspectors allegedly asked students ‘what would you do if a Muslim came to this school?’ and ‘What would you do if someone gay came to this school?’.
On a related note, the Islamic faith Al-Madinah, which changed sponsors after an inadequate Ofsted report, must improve after a December report highlighted problems with teaching at a Key Stage 1 level but it is positively attempting to address inconsistent teaching.
Debates around ‘British values’, and the paramount importance of student safety and education raise questions about the suitability of free schools, even when some push to improve. A polarising debate will continue in the coming weeks if an appeal is indeed made.