The Decision is Definite: Durham Free School Set to Close
In January, the Durham Free School was informed that its funding agreement would be canceled if the institution failed to raise its standards within a given period of time. After governmental inspectors rated the school’s action plan inadequate, the Durham Free School administration made efforts towards improvement. Nevertheless, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan brought the final decision and informed the public that the school was to be closed at the end of the term, since the Trust didn’t show acceptable evidence of improvement.
The Free School, with program based on Christian ethos, was opened in September 2013. Former Education Secretary Michael Gove approved the school’s values when it was founded, but the institution has been the target of many attacks in the House of Commons.
Low ratings and serious issues
After the governmental inspection at the end of last year, the institution received the lowest ratings for teaching, leadership, behavior and achievement. In addition, Ofsted inspectors informed about serious issues with poor pupil attitude and bullying among students.
The inability of the school to prepare its pupils for life in modern Britain was pinpointed as its major weakness. The Secretary of State was not convinced that the current capacity of the school complied with the acceptable standards of education. Mrs Morgan said that “the interests of children must come first and it is clear that the school is not delivering the high standard of education that parents and I expect.”
The general attitude of the public was judgmental, since the inspectors accused the educational norms of the school for creating bigots. Some students did not know what a Muslim was, while others had discriminatory views of people with different faiths, beliefs, or values.
Nevertheless, the teachers and school administration argued that Durham Free School was unfairly labeled as a Christian faith school. As an educational institution with a great majority of white British students, knowledge and understanding of other cultures was naturally not prevalent. According to parent governor Petrina Douglas, that didn’t mean that the students were bigoted.
The other side of the coin
The school’s Chair of Governers, John Denning, stood up for the staff at Durham Free School, characterizing them as “highly skilled individuals who have been frankly slandered in the Houses of Parliament under the protection of parliamentary privilege”. Mr Denning blames the inspectors for asking inappropriate questions that made the pupils feel uncomfortable. One student was embarrassed when the inspector questioned him alone and asked about his sexuality.
The parents of Durham Free School pupils were devastated by the news. An e-petition was raised in an attempt to change the government’s decision and keep the school open. The parents have seen a positive impact on their children’s lives since they started attending Durham Free School, and would be devastated to see it closed due to controversial political opinion. In addition, over 50 students have written to Mrs Morgan, requesting her to reconsider her decision. Nevertheless, the letter from the Department of Education delivered the final decision.
The parents will continue to fight the closure, and several of them said that they would prefer to home-school their children over sending them to another school. The lawyers representing Durham Free School submitted a legal challenge to the Department for Education, stating “Our client has no confidence in your ability to make a fair, proportionate and lawful final decision in relation to the future of the school since you are not open to any representations”.
In the Latest News section at the school’s website, the administration informs that the students are currently on a residential field trip, carrying on with their normal activities. Although the school is set for closure on Friday, March 27 (the day when the funding will cease), it is still getting applications for new pupils to start attending classes.