13 Dec 2013

Flagship free school is shut down by government

“None of the school’s teachers were delivering good lessons” – the Discovery New School in Sussex becomes the first free school to be closed by the government after “grave concern” over standards.

The government has shut down a school in Sussex after it was panned by inspectors who found that none of the teachers was delivering good lessons and the trust running the school was “unclear” about how to improve things.

The Discovery New School in West Sussex was one of the first free schools to be set up in 2011 – a core part of Conservative education policy. Free schools can set their own pay and conditions for teachers, employ teachers who are not qualified and decide their own curriculum. They are run by a trust rather than a local authority.

“None of the school’s teachers were delivering good lessons and all were still consistently inadequate or required improvement,” said the letter sent to the school from the Department for Education.

The letter said it was also unclear whether the trust running the school had identified what was needed to make improvements.

“The number and nature of the actions and milestones to be achieved demonstrates that the staff are currently unable to deliver teaching and learning even at the most basic level with the consequence for the pupils of continued inadequate teaching for an unacceptable length of time.”

The Discovery New School has published a response to the Department for Education’s criticisms… but a department spokesperson said that the school will be shut and the pupils reallocated: “Lord Nash has today notified the trust that the department will terminate its funding agreement at the end of the spring term.

“We are now working with West Sussex County Council to ensure the children affected have suitable alternatives in place and their transition is as smooth as possible.”

Free school controversy

Failings at another free school, the Al Madinah school in Derby, have also made the headlines. The school was closed temporarily over concerns that female teachers were being made to wear the veil, and that girls had been made to sit at the back of the class.

The free school policy has caused ruptures in the coalition government, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticising the schools for letting ideology get in the way of education.

Grammar school expansion refused

Free schools continue to be et up, with 16 more due to open in the next few months.

But today, the Department for Education turned down plans to expand a grammar school in Kent, because new grammar schools are against government policy.

The department said that current laws ban the establishment of new grammar schools. The department judged that the school extension, the Weald of Kent Grammar School and Invicta Grammar School were bidding to run, would be so significant it would amount to a new school and therefore it denied the application.

Both put in rival bids to run a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, Kent.