Free school facing closure considers legal action to fight decision

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan ordered the closure after inspectors accused pupils of harbouring 'prejudiced views' of children from other faiths

A free school facing closure this Easter after inspectors rated it “inadequate” is considering legal action to fight the move.

Durham Free School, a school with a Christian ethos, was ordered to close by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan after inspectors accused pupils of harbouring “prejudiced views” of children from other faiths.

Inspectors from education standards watchdog Ofsted also said they had found evidence of bullying, poor standards in the classroom and financial mismanagement.

However, the school’s chairman of governors, John Denning, insisted yesterday the inspectors’ report was “just plain wrong” and needed to be reviewed.

“We are seeking further legal advice so I can’t confirm that we will definitely be testing it legally but we are taking further advice,” he said, speaking on yesterday BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

He said the inspectors’ report contradicted earlier monitoring reports from the Department for Education.

“It contradicts the experience of our parents, it contradicts the assessment data of the school that had been moderated externally by another school, it contradicts a whole raft of evidence,” he added.

“For example, it says a lot about bullying and yet many of our parents have experienced that their child has been bullied in previous schools, moved to the Durham Free School and been free of it and happy to come tp the school - in some cases for the first time in their lives.

“If what the Ofsted report said was true, if what the Secretary of State then said about the capacity to improve was true, then obviously there would be no argument - the school should close.

“What we are saying is that the Ofsted report is inaccurate - on a number of accounts, it’s just plain wrong.  This needs to be looked at again.”

Durham Free School is the second free school to be ordered to close because of a poor Ofsted report - the first was the New Discovery primary school in Crawley, West Sussex, where inspectors said pupils had made no progress in English and maths over a term.

A third school, Al Madinah in Derby, a Muslim school, was also ordered to close for secondary aged pupils because of poor Ofsted report.

Ofsted said of the Durham Free School: “Students’ achievement is weak  ... standards are low and progress is inadequate.”

The school standards watchdog added that the school’s governors “place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff and not enough on candidates with excellent leadership sand teaching skills.

“Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.

“The behaviour of some students leads to unsafe situations  ...  students call each other unpleasant names and there are many instances of bullying.”

The school, which opened in 2013, has 94 pupils and a largely white intake with no pupils who speak English as a foreign language.

The decision to go ahead with its closure as a result of the Ofsted report was confirmed by the DfE earlier this week.