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Durham Free School ordered to close after only 18 months

The Durham Free School is to become the third free school to close after it was rated as inadequate and placed into special measures by Ofsted today.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan told the Commons this afternoon that she would shut the school set up by parents and teachers just 18 months ago.

Its closure follows those of the Discovery New School in West Sussex, which was shut last year because of poor standards, and the partial closure of Al Madinah, the country’s first Muslim free school, which was forced to shut its secondary school.

Inspectors found Durham Free School to be “weak” in a number of different areas, from students’ achievement to the level of teaching. The watchdog’s report also says that governors at the Christian school place too much emphasis on “religious credentials” when recruiting staff rather than focusing on teaching and leadership skills.

In addition, the inspectorate states that the school’s leaders are failing to prepare students for "life in modern Britain", and that the students often hold “discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves”.

Exclusion rates are high and attendance is low, the report adds.

Addressing the House in Education Questions today, Ms Morgan told MPs that she had informed the school it would be closed.

“I was very concerned to find children were being let down by a catalogue of failures as reported. And because I do not think there is any imminent prospect of improvement, the regional schools commissioner has today written to the school informing them that I have decided to terminate their funding agreement," Ms Morgan said. 

The school opened its doors with just 30 pupils, and a year later had managed to fill only 87 places out of a hoped-for 150.

Last year, Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network, warned that more free schools would fail owing to looser entry requirements among the earlier waves of free schools.

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the free school programme was "damaging school standards. 

"Michael Gove said Durham Free School would raise standards and would add to the quality of education in Durham – in reality it has done the exact opposite," Mr Hunt said.

"David Cameron’s failing free school programme is damaging school standards – too many are failing their Ofsted inspections, one third have employed unqualified teachers and a complete lack of local oversight is allowing underperformance in these schools to go unchecked for far too long."

Expanding further on her reasons to terminate the Durham Free School's funding agreement, Ms Morgan issued a statement saying she would not tolerate "failure in our schools". 

"[The Durham Free School] is failing to ensure children are looked after, failing to provide an environment in which children are able to learn, and failing to provide the quality of education that we expect. These findings come on top of a review by the Education Funding Agency which identified serious concerns about financial management, control and governance.

“It is clear that this has been a troubled school for some time and there is no imminent prospect of improvement. We have therefore decided to close the school and will work with the local authority to ensure every child is found a place at another local school where they can thrive and receive the standard of education that they deserve”.

Related stories: 

Al Madinah becomes second free school forced to shut over poor quality education - 7 February 2014

‘Inadequate’ Discovery free school forced to close - 13 December 2013

Free schools: 'There will be more failures', warns key supporter - 8 January 2014

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