'Not good': Ofsted gives a mixed verdict on education reforms in major setback for Michael Gove

Substantial improvements needed in three of the first nine free schools to be inspected, yet Government is pushing ahead with hundreds more

Michael Gove's flagship education project has been dealt an embarrassing blow after inspectors demanded that three of the new wave of "free schools" must improve their teaching, leadership and pupil performance. In the first official verdict on the Education Secretary's free schools programme, Ofsted inspectors have ruled that three of the first nine institutions to be examined are "not good" schools.

The "requires improvements" judgement handed down to Batley Grammar School in Yorkshire, Sandbach School in Cheshire and Kings Science Academy in Bradford is the third-lowest of the four possible grades that Ofsted can give – one above the "inadequate" rating. Each school now faces another full-scale inspection within the next two years.

Labour said the "worrying" judgement blew a hole in the Government's pledge that the semi-independent schools, set up by interest groups including parents, charities and businesses, would improve educational standards for thousands of young people. Union leaders complained that any council-run schools given such low grades "would be closed down or forced to accept academy status". The shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, said: "Michael Gove promised that his free schools programme would raise standards, but the early signs will worry parents. He needs to focus on driving up school quality in those areas which just aren't good enough."

Mr Gove has consistently claimed that free schools will improve the performance and opportunities of children in England and Wales, telling MPs earlier this month that the schools were "making a significant difference in driving up standards in every part of the country".

David Cameron yesterday said many more free schools were in the pipeline, as he called on the education system "to be like the pushiest, most sharp-elbowed, ambitious parent there is". The Prime Minister claimed his Government was taking on "a left-wing establishment that had bargain-basement expectations of millions of children".

Twenty-four free schools, all state funded but semi-independent and run by "education providers", opened their doors in the first wave of the new institutions in 2011. More than 50 more followed in 2012, and more than 100 have been authorised to open from this year onwards.

Although teaching unions complained they are "undemocratic and a huge waste of public money", the Department for Education (DfE) insisted the new institutions would address specific needs in different parts of the country. Nine free schools have been visited since Ofsted began inspecting the first wave of the institutions in January. Six free schools inspected were labelled "good", with Woodpecker Hall Academy in London graded "outstanding" for the achievement, behaviour and safety of its pupils.

But Batley Grammar, Sandbach School and Kings Science Academy were all judged to require improvements in the key areas of teaching quality, leadership and management and pupil achievement. Inspectors said Kings Science Academy must improvements in all four main categories, after criticising its teaching, leadership and the length of the school day.

Batley Grammar, previously a fee-paying independent school, was praised for the headteacher's leadership and said improved teaching quality, but inspectors added: "Teaching has not been consistently good enough over time in the secondary phase and the sixth form, especially in English and mathematics. Too little teaching is outstanding. When the free school opened, leaders and governors lacked data about pupils' performance. As a result, target-setting and checks on progress were not fit for purpose." Improvements demanded included increasing the proportion of good and outstanding teaching.

Ofsted criticised Sandbach School because the achievement of pupils was "inconsistent", marking was "variable" and the school "has had an overgenerous view of its performance". Its report added: "Plans for improvement are not sharply focused on addressing areas for improvement. As a result, the school has not acted swiftly enough to tackle some areas of weakness, such as science."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the reports "put paid to the idea that free schools or academies run by sponsors are axiomatically best placed to deliver education". She added: "It is dreadful that schools which the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary constantly trumpet as being better than local authority-maintained schools are failing through ill-thought-out and hastily implemented policies."

A DfE spokesman said six of the nine free schools inspected were rated as "good", which was "a brilliant achievement when these schools have been open just over a year".

He added: "Where Ofsted found that a minority 'require improvement', we are confident that the right steps are being taken. Nearly all the free schools which have opened so far have been heavily oversubscribed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: DT/Design and Technology Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school in Cambridgesh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Daily, short and long term Supply Teachers urgently required.

£115 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Supply teachers required throughou...

Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate - Newly Qualified Teachers Required For Sept 2015

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate Teachers/ Newly Qua...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks