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Free schools properly monitored, minister insists, after Al-Madinah branded "chaotic"

Ministers have insisted that proper scrutiny of the free school programme exists despite Ofsted claiming the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby was "in chaos". 

Speaking in the Commons this morning, schools minister David Laws said the "swift action" shown in response to the Muslim free school's failings proved that the government was holding all free schools properly accountable. 

In responding to an Urgent Question posed by Labour, Mr Laws gave a robust defence of the free school policy while he accused Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt as being "incoherent" in his approach to the programme.

"As we have shown in the swift response to Al-Madinah that there is proper scrutiny over the free school programme as a whole," Mr Laws said. 

Labour had been granted an Urgent Question this morning following the release of Ofsted's judgement on the Al-Madinah Free School.

The report branded the the Muslim free school as “dysfunctional” adding that it was  “in chaos” and had “not been adequately monitored or supported”.

The school has been under fire for a number of weeks amid claims it was discriminating against female staff demanding they cover their heads even if they were not Muslim, and forced girls to sit at the back of the class.  

The interim headteacher was then forced to close the school for a week following its Ofsted inspection, over what the governing body claimed was due to “health and safety concerns”.

Upon re-opening, schools minister Lord Nash published a letter threatening the school with closure unless it agreed not to discriminate against its female staff and pupils. It was also ordered to ensure all of its staff had full and up to date criminal records checks.

Ofsted's inspectors found the school was being run by “inexperienced” teachers, and judged the school to be “inadequate” in every category. It has been recommended to be placed in special measures.

Earlier today Mr Hunt said: "What this report exposes is that David Cameron and Michael Gove's Free School programme has become a dangerous free-for-all: an out of control ideological experiment that has closed a school, leaving 400 children losing an entire week of learning.

"Pupils have been failed on every possible measure and parents will want to know how David Cameron and Michael Gove have allowed this to happen – especially as Ofsted identified that this school was not meeting the basic requirements on child protection before it was opened.”

“It is a crisis entirely of their own making," he added.

The Department for Education said it was already investigating the school before the allegations were made public, and discussed the problems with Ofsted.

“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," a spokesperson said. 

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