Al-Madinah – “dysfunctional”, “in chaos” and “failed the parents” – but DfE monitored the school last November. Surely many of the failings were noticeable then?

Janet Downs's picture
If it weren’t for the goodwill of the Interim Principal, Al-Madinah free school would “totally collapse”, wrote Ofsted.

Al-Madinah was “dysfunctional”: the school had been established by people who had “limited knowledge and experience”, Ofsted wrote. Yet the Department for Education (DfE) must have known about the make-up of the group behind the free school before it gave it the go-ahead.

Ofsted found no evidence of boys and girls being treated unequally although secondary girls and boys were seated on different sides of the room. Ofsted told the school it must make sure all statutory requirements are met particularly those concerning “racism, disability and special educational needs”.

“The school has not been adequately monitored or supported,” said Ofsted. This raises questions about how diligent the DfE had been during its monitoring visit in November 2012. In particular:

1 The large numbers of inexperienced, unqualified staff who were not receiving adequate training or support.

2 The school’s lack of knowledge about how many pupils needed extra support. It did not even know how many pupils had a statement of special educational needs (SEN).

3 The lack of any procedure to chase up absentee pupils. This meant attendance became “worryingly low”: Ofsted found half of secondary pupils had unauthorised absences.

4 Procedures for ensuring pupils’ safety didn’t meet requirements.

5 The incoherent staffing structure didn’t clarify roles and responsibilities.

6 The lack of systems for “capturing reliable data” and recording incidents of bad behaviour.

7 The under-resourced library.

These failures would surely have been obvious when DfE monitoring took place.

Ofsted wrote, “Failures in leadership and management are at the heart of the school’s dysfunctional situation”. These failures were present from the outset but Al-Madinhah’s first head has now taken the helm at another free school, the Exemplar Newark Business Academy, due to open in September 2014.

Al-Madinah’s governors “have failed the parents…who have placed their trust in them,” Ofsted concluded. But the DfE does not escape blame:

1 It allowed a group without knowledge and experience to open a school;

2 It gives permission for free schools and academies to employ unqualified staff;

3 It does not require free schools to employ heads with adequate training and experience. This weakness permeates the free school programme: it’s possible for teachers with limited, if any, experience of senior management to become heads – many have been appointed by groups they set up themselves. And one inexperienced, unqualified head quit a newly-opened free school, Pimlico Primary, after only a few weeks.

And now it appears DfE monitoring of newly-opened free schools lacks rigour. As the numbers of free schools rise then so does the burden on the DfE to supervise them all adequately. This raises the question about how it will cope.

UPDATE 23 Ocobter 2013.  The former head of Al-Madinah, Andrew Cutts-McKay, told the Guardian he was the whistleblower who alerted the DfE and the Education Funding Agency about problems at the school.  He claimed an inspection by external advisors comprising “Ofsted-qualified” staff which took place in December 2012 had been positive about the school.

"At no point were teaching, achievement, behaviour and safeguarding, or leadership and management ever considered to be inadequate up until the point when I departed," Cutts-Mackay told the Guardian.

But the article later says the Guardian has seen a June 2013 report submitted by Cutts-Mackay to the governors of Al-Madinah which indicated “the independent advisers had said all areas of the school needed improvement but that there were no concerns about safeguarding.”

This raises the question about how many independent advisors visited Al-Madinah, when and what they found because the above statements are contradictory.

Al-Madinah’s chair of governors, Shazia Parveen called Cutts-McKay "evil" and accused the Department for Education (DfE) of racism because they had “a different colour of skin”.

[According to DueDil, Cutts-McKay retired as a Director of Al-Madinah Education Trust on 28 August 2013]









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