October 17, 2013
A controversial free school condemned in an official report as “dysfunctional” is expected to be closed by the government by the end of the year after ministers seemingly concluded that it is beyond rescue.
As Labour claimed that Michael Gove had suffered a devastating blow to his flagship free schools policy after the Al-Madinah school in Derby was labelled by Ofsted as chaotic, David Cameron said that he would not hesitate to close it.
Lord Nash, the schools minister, indicated that the Al-Madinah school was facing closure when he warned the chair of governors that the Ofsted report had confirmed his “very serious concerns” which prompted him to order the inspectorate to bring forward its report by two months. “The report is further compelling evidence of the breaches of the funding agreement I have required you to address,” he wrote. ” I am even more convinced of the need for very decisive and urgent action on the part of the trust to comply with all your obligations and remedy the serious failings at the school.”
The school, which has been placed in special measures, will face regular inspections over the next few weeks. The education department will decide on 1 November whether to terminate the school’s funding agreement, effectively forcing it to close. The school could technically continue if it can raise funds independently although it is thought it would be unable to do so.
The closure of the first free school since the launch of Gove’s controversial new policy will mean that the 412 pupils at the school, aged between four and 16, would have to be sent to other schools in Derby.
The move will raise questions about the money that has been spent on the school that is likely to have run into the millions. The average school is given £3,500 per pupil a year plus around an extra £700 for pupils from deprived backgrounds.
A current teacher at Al-Madinah said the atmosphere in the school was tense on Thursday after it was surrounded by media asking for comment on the Ofsted report. The teacher said there was no surprise that the report was so scathing but that the media was wrong to focus on the Islamic practices at the school, such as alleged segregation of boys and girls and asking female teachers to cover their heads. “This is not about Islam at all. The problem here is poor management, poor financial management, a lack of proper governance and a lack of focus on teaching and learning – not Islam,” said the source.
The Ofsted inspectors agreed, reporting that “failures in leadership and management are at the heart of the school’s dysfunctional situation.” The inspectors placed the blame firmly at the governors’ door, saying: “Despite their commitment to the vision for the school, the governors have failed the parents of this community who have placed their trust in them.”