Michael Gove under pressure to tighten monitoring as Al-Madinah free school is labelled as 'dysfunctional'
The shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said Ofsted report showed Education Secretary's free schools programme had become 'out of control ideological experiment'
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Thursday 17 October 2013
The Government's flagship free schools programme was branded a "dangerous free-for-all" and an "out of control ideological experiment" by Labour's Shadow Education Secretary in the Commons today.
Tristram Hunt was responding to an inspectors' report on the Al-Madinah Muslim free school in Derby which claimed that the school was "dysfunctional".
"Far from an isolated incident, the failings at this school reveal the systemic threat to education standards under this Government," he said.. It was, he argued "a devastating blow to the Education Secretary's flagship policy".
"It is not just Al-Madinah school which is dysfunctional," he added. "It is the Education Secretary's free schools policy."
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "This issue goes beyond this particular school and reveals the dangers inherent in Michael Gove's free school programme - children's educations are suffering and the Secretary of State must provide answers as to why his policy has so few safeguards in place."
However, Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking to BBC Radio Derby, said the report by education standards watchdog Ofsted should not be used "as a stick with which to beat the whole free school movement". He said that free schools - on average - had more "outstanding" and "good" ratings than the rest of the sector.
Yesterday's report declared the school, for four to 18-year-olds, was "inadequate" in every category inspected. It concluded: "The school is in chaos and reliant on the goodwill of an interim principal to prevent it totally collapsing."
Dr Stuart Wilson, the interim principal who has been in charge of the school since the beginning of term, said he accepted the findings of the report, adding that the school had "a whole range of problems" which were beginning to be tackled.
The report said governors had "failed to ensure children are safe in the school". "They have also failed to appoint staff with appropriate skills, knowledge and experience and to adequately monitor the work of the school properly," it added.
However, it cleared the school of allegations that it had been discriminating against girls by placing them at the back of the class.
Answering an urgent question from Mr Hunt in the House of Commons, Schools Minister David Laws said the Government had been "very clear" with the school's Trust that it must take action and that failure to do so would result in its funding being axed - effectively leading to its closure.
"We will not let any school, whether a free school, an academy school or a local authority school, languish in failure," he told MPs.
Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange - a think-tank with close links to Mr Gove, said: "Free schools must not be protected from the system of clear accountability which we rightly expect all other publically funded schools to work within.
"The Ofsted report into Al-Madinah is appalling and supporters as well as opponents of free schools should be demanding action to address its failures. However, this individual case should not be used as a stick to beat the free schools programme with."
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