Another free school damned by EFA report

Janet Downs's picture
Discovery New School, a free school in Crawley, was judged Inadequate in June 2013.  Inspectors revealed a Department for Education (DfE)  adviser had discovered serious weaknesses nine months before but allowed the school time to address them.  The school didn’t do so.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) has now published a damning report into financial management and governance at the free school.  Investigators found the school’s founders were a married couple who became the school’s head and the school business manager (SBM).   They were the sole signatories to the school’s bank account and the only people authorised to use the school’s electronic banking system. 

The head’s now been suspended.  An interim head was appointed on 11 October.    Neither the suspended head nor the SBM were present during EFA investigations.  The school can’t make any payments, the EFA said, until the SBM and/or the suspended head return to work or until the mandate is changed.

The relationship between the head and SBM should have come as no surprise.  It was revealed in the Guardian before the free school opened that Andrew Snowden, one of the school's proposers, would be SBM and his wife would teach.   Snowden said he wasn’t under any obligation to hire qualified teachers – an early indication that free schools (and later academies) could employ people to teach without training. 

The Telegraph reported the couple had given up £250,000pa to run Discovery New School and Ms Snowden would be paid less than most heads.  The school resembled “a smart prep school” where children in “tartan kilts and crisp green jumpers” rehearsed the egg-and-spoon race in parkland and filed through the “airy atrium of the 1830’s villa”.

The number of children at the school varies between 48 and 65*. Ms Snowden told the DT “Some of the children cannot hold a knife and fork when they come to us.”  She implied these would be ones who weren’t middle-class because she wanted to create an environment where children did what would be expected in a middle-class home.

That does, of course, include teaching children to be literate.  This is something all parents want, including those who allegedly send their children to school without being able to handle cutlery.  Ofsted said “too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly”.

The DT reported the school was not ready when it opened: sewage ran down stairs and the roof leaked, Snowden told the paper.  But he also listed the positives: “it’s a lovely building, it’s in a beautiful setting or the kids look lovely in their uniforms.”

But there’s more to education than tartan kilts, crisp jumpers and Victorian villas. 

As one parent told the BBC

“I feel that the government has got a lot to answer for. Michael Gove really needs to look a lot closer at how they are monitoring free schools and how they are being allowed to be set up.”



* School Performance Tables 2012 said 48 with 8.3% eligible for FSM, the Telegraph said 62 while Edubase listed 65.
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