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Mixed fortunes for free schools as inspectors find 'outstanding' and 'inadequate' standards

Government officials have hailed news this week that the first secondary free school was judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, just days after yet another free school slumped into special measures.

In what has been both a good and bad news week for the free school programme, it was revealed on Tuesday that the Hartsbrook E-Act Free School in Tottenham, north London, was found to be “inadequate” across the board.

In their report, Ofsted’s inspectors said teachers “do not have high enough expectations” and that “far too many pupils consistently underachieve, especially boys and the most-able”.

“Attendance is inadequate. Systems to check that pupils are safe when they are absent from school are weak,” the report added.

The primary school, which opened in September 2012, is the fourth free school to be placed in “special measures”  after the same fate befell IES Breckland in Suffolk and the high-profile cases of the Discovery New School in west Sussex and the Muslim Al-Madinah School in Derby.

Poor Ofsted judgements led to the closure of Discovery and the partial shuttering of Al-Madinah.

Hartsbrook was one of 16 schools sponsored by E-Act that were inspected by Ofsted earlier in the year after inspectors swooped in to the schools during a two-week period.

The blitz led to E-Act being stripped of 10 of its schools – almost a third of its number – of which Hartsbrook was one. The Department for Education is currently looking for a new sponsor to take over the running of the school, although E-Act will continue to work with the school on an improvement plan.

E-Act’s recently appointed chief executive David Moran admitted the standards in too many of the sponsor’s academies were “not acceptable”.

The news was followed by today’s announcement that Dixon’s Academy in Bradford, West Yorkshire, became the first secondary free school to be handed an “outstanding” judgement by Ofsted.

Other high-profile secondary free schools, including the West London Free School, established by author and journalist Toby Young, have previously been praised for their provision, but none has secured the top rating overall.

Schools minister Lord Nash congratulated Dixon's Academy on its achievement. 

“I was very impressed by the innovative policies they have put in place which are underpinned by a constant drive to achieve the best for every child,” he said.

“I am delighted that my Department has been able to support the vision of the Dixons Academy Trust and the Principal Luke Sparkes in setting up a school that demands and delivers excellence for all.”

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