A Muslim free school has been warned it faces closure if it does not take action to eradicate practices which discriminate against girls and women within a week.
The blunt warning was delivered yesterday in a letter from Lord Nash. the Minister with responsibility for free schools and academies in a letter to the chair of its governing body.
Lord Nash warned the Al-Madinah free school in Derby that the trust running it had “manifestly breached the conditions of its funding agreement by failing to ensure the safety of children at the school: delivering an unacceptably poor standard of education, discriminating in its policies towards female staff and failing to discharge its duties and responsibilities”.
“I will not tolerate breaches of the commitments you gave when entering into the funding agreement,” he said.
The school was forced to close down last week after inspectors from education standards watchdog Ofsted visited it with the acting principal saying this was because of a “health and safety” issue - understood now to refer to the failure to carry out criminal record checks on staff. It reopened on Monday after Ofsted was satisfied there were enough qualified staff on hand.
It also faced allegations that it was discriminating against girls by forcing them to sit at the back of the class - and also compelling women staff regardless of their religion to wear a headscarf and cover their hair.
In his letter to Shazia Parveen, who chairs the Al-Madinah Education Trust, Lord Nash delivers the sternest warning ever given by a government minister to one of its flagship free schools, saying: “Unless swift action is taken to address these concerns in a comprehensive way I will be compelled to terminate the school’s funding agreement.”
In particular, he wants the Trust to ensure by next Tuesday, that all Criminal Records Bureau checks on staff have been completed and written references for every employee taken up.
In addition, he wants written confirmation that any discriminatory practices which have led to women and girls being treated “less favourably than men and boys” have ceased - and that staff have been told they are not required to cover their hair if it is contrary to their religion or beliefs.
By the following week, Lord Nash has ordered the school to advertise for a new permanent principal and ensure all school governors have the “requisite skills, experience and commitment necessary to govern the school”. satisfy ministers that the curriculum is “broad and balanced”, and draw up an action plan to deal with all the school’s failings.
His letter follows two departmental investigations into the school - by the Department for Education’s international investigations and audit division and the Education Funding Agency. In addition, Ofsted’s report on the school - said to be highly critical - is expected to be published within the next few days.
In a statement today, chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the school had reopened after inspectors made a return visit to ensure the right checks - i.e criminal records checks - were in place, He said inspectors had found staff records “showing whether they were cleared to supervise children were either missing or incomplete”.
Al-Madinah declined to comment on the letter. Today Stuart Miller, its acting principal, said it had reopened after addressing “ a short-term health and safety issue that has now been completely resolved and will not reoccur”.
On its website, it describes itself as having “a strong Muslim ethos” with shorter holidays and longer school days “to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success”.
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