Free schools judged to be ‘out of control’ after damning report on Islamic school
Michael Gove was told that his free schools programme was "out of control" today, after a damning Ofsted report found the Al-Madinah Islamic school in Derby was given the lowest possible rating in every single category.
In a report which raises fundamental questions about how the school was authorised to take on pupils by the Department of Education, Ofsted found that the school was "in chaos", with inexperienced teachers failing to adequately teach students.
"This school is dysfunctional. The basic systems and processes a school needs to operate well are not in place," the report concluded.
"The school is in chaos and reliant on the goodwill of an interim principal to prevent it totally collapsing."
Most damagingly for Gove, some of the failures of the school directly correlate to concerns raised about free schools by new Labour shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt.
Asking an argent question in the Commons this morning, Hunt said: "What today's Ofsted report exposes is that the government free school programme has become a free-for-all, an out of control ideological experiment which has closed a school.
"It is a devastating blow to the education secretary's flagship policy. Pupils have been failed on every possible measure."
Education minister David Laws compared Hunt's comments with a series of weekend interviews in which he said he supported free schools.
"People listening to these exchanges and reflecting on what he said on Sunday will see nothing but total and utter opportunism," he said.
"It's a shambles from Labour's education policy."
Over the weekend, Hunt said that he backed the free school programme, but objected to rules allowing unqualified teachers to work in them.
That caveat appears to have been partly vindicated by the report, which raised concerns about how vital teaching roles were handed to unqualified teachers.
"Staff have been appointed to key roles for which they do not have qualifications and experience," the report, which was leaked to the Guardian, reveals.
"For example, most of the primary school teachers have not taught before and the head of the primary school is experienced in teaching secondary-aged pupils only."
The report found pupils were making poor progress in Key Stage 3 and that teacher assessment of work against the national curriculum was "over generous".
Inspectors sat in on a maths class where pupils predominantly cut out and pasted shapes and "learned little that was mathematical". All pupils were given the same work regardless of ability.
The report also seemed to vindicate concerns about cutting schools off from local authority control.
With local authorities stripped of their responsibility for evaluating new schools, all applications now go through the Department for Education, with many worrying that this is too large a workload for the central government body to handle.
"This is a school which has been set up and run by representatives of the community with limited knowledge and experience," the report found.
"Leadership and management, including governance, are inadequate and have been unable to improve the school."
Inspectors did not comment on reports that female teachers had been forced to wear headscarfs or that girls were put at the back of the class.
But it did find that boys and girls were forced to eat lunch separately. School authorities said this was because there was limited room in the canteen.
Older pupils were seated on either side of the classroom, according to gender.
The report marked the school as 'inadequate', the lowest possible rating, in every single category.
In a statement on its website earlier this week, the school wrote: "At this point, the school is struggling to see how we are being treated comparably with other schools.
"Consequently, while we intend to co-operate fully with the Department for Education, we have also sought the advice of the school's solicitors."
Schools minister Lord Nash wrote back: "The report is further compelling evidence of the breaches of the funding agreement I have required you to address.
"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."
The Department for Education said: "This report provides further evidence of Al-Madinah’s failings. We are now even more convinced of the need for decisive and urgent action.
"Ministers had already put the school on notice that its funding will be cancelled unless there are major improvements."