17 Oct 2013

‘Dysfunctional’ Muslim free school put in special measures

Schools minister David Laws says no school will be allowed to “languish in failure” as an Ofsted report on Al-Madinah school in Derby, a Muslim free school, says it is “in chaos”.

Al-Madinah school branded dysfunctional by inspectors - pic from school website

David Laws told MPs the government had taken “swift action” to deal with failings at the controversial Derby school.

Ofsted inspectors described it as “dysfunctional” and “in chaos” in their damning report. Al-Madinah is now set to be placed in special measures.

The near-collapse of the Derby free school, which is a Muslim faith school, prompted Labour to say that the free school experiment was out of control, raising questions over one of the government’s key education policies.

The school is in chaos and reliant on the goodwill of an interim principal to prevent it totally collapsing. Ofsted report

Tristram Hunt, labour’s shadow education secretary, said the report showed that “the government’s free a school programme has become a dangerous free-for-all, an out-of-control, ideological experiment, that has closed a school – leaving 400 children without an entire week of learning.

“It is a devastating blow to the education secretay’s flagship policy. It reveals that pupils have been failed on every measure and parents will want to know why the education secretary has allowed this to happen.”

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Hunt said girls should not be segregated at school.

“This is a school funded by British taxpayers, we have had a long fight for gender equality,” he said.

The report states: “The basic systems and processes a school needs to operate well are not in place. The school is in chaos and reliant on the goodwill of an interim principal to prevent it totally collapsing.”

The school has already come in for criticism in recent weeks following claims that it discriminated against women, required staff to cover their hair even if they were not Muslim, and made girls sit at the back of the classroom while boys sat at the front.

‘Very serious concerns’

As the report was published, the Department for Education released a letter sent to Al-Madinah’s chair of governors Shazia Parveen by schools minister Lord Nash, in which he says that Ofsted’s report confirms the “very serious concerns” he raised in a letter to the school a week ago.

“The report is further compelling evidence of the breaches of the funding agreement I have required you to address,” he writes.

“Contrary to your suggestion that I have acted prematurely, I am even more convinced of the need for very decisive and urgent action on the part of the Trust to comply with all your obligations and remedy the serious failings at the school.”

Al-Madinah, which is one of the government’s flagship free schools and is run by the Al-Madinah Education Trust, opened in September last year.

On its website it describes “a strong Muslim ethos” with shorter holidays and longer school days “to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success”.

Earlier this week the school said it was seeking legal advice over the way it has been treated by government after ministers warned it faced closure.

Its website now also says: “We have just learnt that our Ofsted report has been leaked to the press, does this happen in other schools?”


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