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Ofsted hits back at allegations from troubled free schools

Ofsted has hit back at what it described as "a number of serious allegations" made by two free schools in the North East of England that were placed in special measures this week.

On Monday, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced she was closing the Durham Free School after it was placed in special measures by the inspectorate, prompting a backlash from parents and criticism from the school’s chair of governors, John Denning.

Mr Denning claimed that inspectors were “aggressive and intimidatory” after branding the school as “intolerant” in their report.

The concerns follow others raised by the principal of Grindon Hall Christian School, a former private school that moved to the state sector in 2013. Chris Gray has described a “hostile” approach from Ofsted inspectors during a visit last term.

In a statement issued via Grindon Hall’s website, Mr Gray vows to challenge Ofsted’s judgement and reveals that he has complained to the watchdog about the actions of the inspectors.

According to the principal, a parent at Grindon Hall told him that their 10-year-old child had been asked by inspectors whether they knew what lesbians “did”, while a class of 10-year-olds had been asked if any of their friends felt trapped in the “wrong body”.

But a statement issued by the inspectorate this morning refutes the claims made by both schools, and says that no complaints were made by either school during the inspections.

“The principal of Grindon Hall has written to Ofsted, copied to the media, to make a number of serious allegations about the conduct of the inspection team and the manner of their questioning of pupils,” the statement reads.

“These allegations, which were not brought to the attention of Her Majesty’s Inspectors during the course of the inspection, are now subject to Ofsted’s formal complaints procedures and will be thoroughly investigated in accordance with Ofsted’s published policy.”

The watchdog states that it has found “no evidence” that inspectors failed to act with care and sensitivity, or to ask “age-appropriate questions” when speaking to students.

Ofsted visited two other schools when Grindon Hall and the Durham Free School were being inspected, as part of a drive directed by the education secretary to establish whether their curricula were preparing students for life in modern Britain.

“In two of these schools, Emmanuel College in Gateshead and Bede Academy in Blyth, inspectors found no concerns,” Ofsted’s statement says.

But in both Grindon Hall and the Durham Free School, inspectors found that “prejudiced-based bullying” and “racist words and sexually derogative and homophobic language” were not being adequately addressed by school leaders.

Related stories: 

Grindon Hall free school vows to fight Ofsted's 'inadequate' judgement20 January 2014 

Durham Free School ordered to close after only 18 months – 19 January 2015

Private school that joined state sector is warned over finances – 9 January 2015

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