Four more academies, including a free school, told to sort out their finances. And a much-praised head who set up free schools is suspended amid claims of ‘gross misconduct’.

Janet Downs's picture
Four more academy trusts have been served with Financial Notices to Improve, says Academies Week. They include Durham Free School which, according to the BBC, failed to reach its recruitment targets. Critics have claimed that setting up this free school, together with another in the same area which also failed to attract pupils, was a waste of money.

Patricia Sowter, executive principal of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) which has four free schools in Enfield, has been suspended while investigations begin into claims of gross misconduct. The head of Cuckoo Hall Primary Academy, Sharon Ahmet, and Ms Sowter’s husband, Phil Sowter, who is a CHAT trustee, have also been suspended. The Mirror claimed the allegations relate to concerns about exam results.

Michael Gove, ex-education secretary, has often praised Ms Sowter. He has visited Cuckoo Hall and mentioned Ms Sowter in speeches and in articles. He claimed Ms Sowter had turned Cuckoo Hall from a failing school in special measures to one which was Outstanding.

But this claim wasn’t true.

Ms Sowter arrived at Cuckoo Hall in 2002. But the school came out of special measures in 1999*. An Ofsted inspection which took place in 2001, when Mr R Allen was head, said:

“This is a very effective school. Pupils enter the school with standards well below expectations and by the end of Year 6, their standards have risen to be at least in line with those in similar schools. Teaching is good and leadership and management are very good. Pupils make good progress.”

According to Cuckoo Hall’s website, the school was under-performing when Ms Sowter took over. But the 2002 Sat results showed 76% reached Level 4 in English, 80% in Maths and 83% in Science. Those figures suggest Cuckoo Hall was not an under-performing school.

The Mirror ‘understands’ that Ofsted and the Department for Education are investigating the allegations against Ms Sowter and the two others. Perhaps they also ought to investigate how a Secretary of State came to make misleading statements about Cuckoo Hall School and why the previous head, Mr R Allen, came to be airbrushed out of the school’s history.

*See page 14 of The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 1998/99

UPDATE 20 January 2015. Durham Free School is to close after Ofsted judged it Inadequate on all four counts. This damning inspection outcome came after the schools was given a Financial Notice to Improve before Christmas (see above). Critics said the school was a waste of money from the start but the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, told Parliament it was 'excellent value' and would act as a 'challenger school' because, in his opinion, Durham schools were poor. His attack on Durham's schools was unfounded as Henry Stewart pointed out here.
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Jane Eades's picture
Tue, 02/12/2014 - 20:45

The list of those now with a financial notice to improve does not give confidence that the DfE is able to keep a check on things. The list is here:

Andy V's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 08:08

Jane, I would have thought that there are two points to flag up here. First, that financial governance of academies requires review and second, that increasing numbers of financial notices to improve indicated that EFA was doing its job and also that this underscored the need for a rigorous review.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:09

Andy - you're right that the increased number of Financial Notices to Improve could show the EFA is doing its job. However, we don't know (probably never will) whether these academies are all there are or whether there are others which have financial problems (or are spending public money inappropriately) but go unnoticed especially when auditors sign off the accounts.

The EFA is having to cut its operating costs. At the same time it's expected to oversee a rising number of academies and free schools. This suggests it won't have the capacity to oversee academy trust accounts effectively or spot inappropriate purchases.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 08:15

Yesterday's breaking news involving a state Islamic school in Birmingham brings a new twist to the trojan horse syndrome. The Al-Hijrah School is one of a handful of Muslim VA schools whose former governing body appear to have grossly misused taxpayer funding to build a sister boarding school in Pakistan. If proven this level of corruption is staggering in its audacity:

Perhaps part of the issue here is that unlike CoE/RC VA schools there is no tangible equivalent of Diocesan oversight.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 12:02

Andy - it appears Al-Hirah was an independent school which closed on 5 Jan 2012 and became a Muslim VA school. This is odd because you would have expected it to become an academy given this Government's enthusiasm for academies.

This raises the question, as you rightly say, what organisation oversees a Muslim VA school. It's not likely to be the Diocese.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 12:34

Janet - I can only assume that because the former school was a Muslim faith based school it was reasonable to afford it VA status.

There was never any chance it would have fallen to a Diocese (CoE or RC) for oversight. My point is that Islam does not have any equivalence to a Diocesan structure.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:03

Andy - I seem to have been confused by the info on Edubase which said the former independent school had closed on 2 Jan 2012. But that independent school was a junior school which joined the already existing Al-Hijrah secondary VA school.

The most recent Ofsted for Al-Hijrah (December 2013) said it was Inadequate. Inspectors wrote: 'Financial resources have been poorly managed over time' which is perhaps what caused the investigation.

Another Muslim VA school in B'Ham appears to be having financial difficulties. Ofsted (Nov 2014 - Inadequate) said:

'There are a number of issues relating to the school’s finances, the school building, and some of the ‘Conditions of Occupancy’ agreed between the previous governing body and Al-Furqan Education Trust that remain unresolved.'

As VA schools, it appears the LA is the body which needs to investigate.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:14

As far as the Durham Free School is concerned, the financial irregularities are inexcusable. It's only been open for a year and free school proposers are supposed to show they have the skills to manage their finances. Another free school which opened in Sept 2013, Hadlow Rural Community School, has also been given a Financial Notice to Improve. And there was Al-Madinah, of course, and the Kings Science Academy. All given permission to open by the DfE which is supposed to assess whether the proposers behind the schools are competent.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 21:02

Janet - I do believe you're right re LAs being responsible for the financial audit of VA schools, which begs the question were BCC aware of the irregularities before the Ofsted inspection or because of the Ofsted trigger?

Andy V's picture
Wed, 03/12/2014 - 21:11

Janet - That is a worrying scenario that should raise concern among all taxpayers and non-partisan politicians! :-(

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 10:21

Andy - the status of VA schools in an anomaly. On the one hand, they're maintained by the LA and their accounts should be publicly audited. On the other hand, they're exempt charities which means the Education Secretary is the Principal Regulator.

The situation at Al-Hijrah is further complicated because the school was set up by a non-exempt charity, Al-Hijrah Trust. But there are two Al-Hijrah Trusts registered with the Charities Commission. The first, registered 1993, lists the Al-Hijrah school in B'Ham and Al-Hijrah Residential School in Pakistan as two of its activities. This Trust has submitted its accounts very late for the last five years which raises a further question - why hasn't the Charities Commission investigated this charity if it can't get its accounts in on time.

The second Al-Hijrah Trust was registered on 2 October 2013 and there isn't much info about it on the Commission's website except it shares the same address as the first trust. It's unclear why the Commission has allowed the registration of two charities with the same name.

If that isn't enough, when the independent primary school joined the existing secondary VA school in Jan 2012 the primary school (according to the 2013 accounts which weren't received by the Commission until 18 Nov 2014) was still carrying some debt from previous years.

This raises the question of which body was responsible for allowing a debt-ridden private school to join the state sector. The LA? The DfE? Both?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 12:50

Janet - As a point of principle it should be acceptable for private schools that choose to do so to transfer to the state sector. It goes without saying that (a) such schools must comply with the rigours and rubrics applying to state sector schools and (b) that any deficit be borne and resolved by the trust/owners of the former private school. The latter should not become a liability for the taxpayer.

I can only hope that the ongoing BCC delving into the financial activities and decisions taken a the Al-Hijrah school has the scope to cover this aspect of its investigation.

This may be a comment under the heading 'ever the optimist' but DfE must have a policy the covers this type of eventuality. Surely the state's responsibility rests with provision of public education for the children but not a financial safety net for failed schools.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 13:15

Jane - an interesting piece. Sadly, it doesn't give a definitive answer the question regarding a policy. I say this because on reading further down the article one finds the following:

"A letter from Lord Nash, the academies minister, to the council confirming the merger, says: "The Department has agreed to fund the existing loan and overdraft of one of the predecessor schools [King's] by securing a charge against the assets of the Woodard Corporation on the land and buildings of the King's School, Tynemouth.""

This implies that transfer with debts is permitted with there are sufficient assets to cover the debt. Financially this means that the debt becomes a loan recoverable via the "charge against the assets".

What the article highlights is how misleading and skewed an article can be in terms of accurate journalism.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 14:57

Andy - the article ended with a quote from an independent financial source:

"Woodard seems to keep the freehold but the state sector gets a 125-year lease to use the buildings. This appears a great deal for Woodard."

£5m for 125 years amounts to £40,000 pa for leasing the land.

At the same time, Woodard Corporation's accounts for y/e 31/8/13 lodged with the Charities Commission show Woodard Corp lent money to Woodard schools in difficulties and also sold some assets which raises the question why £5m of debts needed to be funded by the DfE:

'Realisation of assets has continued and the main site at Bideford was sold during the year...Working with Persimmon Homes and our option holder, Hallam Land, a planning application for land in Harrogate was submitted during the year.'

The accounts also show:

'The exceptional result in 2011-12 reflected the inclusion for the first time of a donation from the Department for Education (DfE) to cover the leasehold properties at Sir Robert Woodard Academy and The Littlehampton Academy...The donation, totalling £62.9 million, was used to fund the leases on the buildings and is held as a restricted reserve within the WAT.'

£62.9m 'donation' from the DfE! Makes the £5m funding for an existing loan look rather small beer.

NOTE: Planning permission for 600 homes at Harrogate was eventually turned down.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 15:16

Janet - While the details terms of the deal may not be what one characterise as a preferred outcome it nevertheless represents a business deal that could be seen as value for money and moreover covers the taxpayers outlay. If Woodard had closed the school and sold the premises I suspect it would have have been a cost the taxpayer more to relocate the pupils and Woodard Corp would have turned sufficient profit to have liquidated the debt. As it stands it could be argued that the taxpayer benefited from a very reasonable leasehold deal, which is also more flexible in relation to any constriction/restructuring of schools in the area that may occur.

Irrespective of that I would still be interested to ascertain whether there is a formal policy on this.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 16:11

Andy - King's Priory was an amalgamation of a state primary school and an all-through independent school. If King's Priory hadn't opened the state primary pupils could have stayed where they were. Recruitment at the predecessor independent school was down by 30% and the LA argued King's Priory would create surplus places at a time when need was reducing.

Not such a good deal, it would appear.

But you're right about whether such transactions are covered by formal policies about the DfE using public money to fund debts accrued by independent schools which become state academies and about DfE 'donations' whatever they are.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 17:09

Andy - FoI request is on its way asking for official policy, if any, about the DfE funding debts incurred by independent schools wishing to enter the state sector.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 17:32


Andy V's picture
Thu, 04/12/2014 - 16:32

Janet - I didn't say it was a good idea. However, and even noting the situation regarding the primary pupils there would still have been a financial impact of relocating the independent school pupils had that simply closed and been sold by the Corp to either cover its debt in whole, in part or with a surplus.

What is interesting is the DfE's persistence in creating surplus places. If the surplus places have come to pass then this could prove an interesting case for an appropriate body to investigate - particularly against continuing austerity and immense pressure on public funds.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 12:35

UPDATE - Durham Free School, featured above, is to close following a negative Ofsted. See Addendum above for more details.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 28/02/2015 - 18:17

It would seem that the decision to close Durham Free School is being challenged by way of an application for Judicial Review.

More information the school website here:

The relevant letters are available on the right hand sde of the page under the heading

"Letters to Nicky Morgan MP, Lord Nash and our Complaint to Ofsted"

with each letter being available as a download when one clicks through the relevant title.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 13:17

Andy -your point about surplus places hits the nail on the head....

The thing is if parental choice is to actually exist there has to be a surplus of places, so if one has a policy of increasing parental choice and therefore introducing market competition into education then one has to be prepared to fund a surplus of places.

The problem then is twofold:-

1. The duty on Local Authorities to manage school places, both so as there should be enough AND that there should not be too many (A surplus) remains in place.

2. The system for funding continuing schools does so on the basis of channelling money almost wholly on pupil numbers, so surplus places in an area always means vacant places in schools which then suffer a financial squeeze (which of course is the way markets work)

However a system which is right (and very good at) allocating resources between coffee shops does not work for schools, because of the radical difference between schools and coffee shops and the goods they offer....

Andy V's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 13:41

David - I'm not quite getting the comparison with coffee shops but hey ho.

Forgive the slight exaggeration I employ here for me but there has to be a difference between excess parental choice (e.g. parental frippery wish list driven choice of school) and providing parental choice by dint of the range of existing schools.

From the original selling point of Free Schools it struck me as entirely reasonable that in locations where there was a shortage of places and/or there were existing underperforming schools that Free Schools were appropriate (e.g. sought by parents/teachers), but that it was damaging to existing schools that were providing Ofsted grade 2 performance and financially irresponsible during austerity budgets to permit Free Schools simply to meet the desires/wishes of others.

I am implacably opposed to the commercialisation / marketisation of education.

I also question the necessity for competition between schools, which I consider to be regressive and not in the best interests of pupils and their life-chances. I prefer a return to schools collaborating and working partnership for the benefit of all pupils within education. This was used well during the Labour years through the vehicle of soft and hard federations and has been very successfully adopted and adapted in Ontario where struggling schools are partnered with stronger ones to bring about improvement and thereafter the choice is to return to discrete schools or remain in collaborative partnership. This is very different from sponsored chains of schools.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 14:26

Andy - I can see why you might find comparing coffee shops and schools might be a bit baffling, as the main point is actually how different (and therefore non comparable) they are. But you give me a perfect prompt to go in to the thing in more detail:-

1. Coffee Shops require low levels of capital investment, and can be re located in re purposed retail outlets. Coffee is a "low involvement" good. That means that people can change allegience between coffee shops without much thought. So if a coffee shop goes down in quality, or becomes over priced customers can move to another provider at very little cost. And because Coffee Shops do not cost much to set up, there are low barriers to entry, and so there is always going to be another provider to move to.... Should a coffee shop not get enough customers it just closes.

2. Schools are capital intensive, and either need dedicated builds, or expensive refurbishing and adaption of existing buildings. They are a "high involvement" good. It is difficult and stressful to change schools. There is a high "cost" , albeit not in money terms to moving schools (loss of children's friendship group, loss of parents peer group). For most parents moving schools, especially at primary, is a last resort. Or a regrettable requirement of a job or house move. Setting up additional schools to provide choice is very expensive. A school that fails for lack of pupils is a great cost to the tax payer.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 14:30

Consequently while a market is a good way to manage the supply of Coffee Shops it is a very bad way to manage the supply of schools.

As an example of this point consider the way in which that part of the school system that is marketised, the fee paying, independent sector.

In London there is excess demand for fee paying schools which allows them to operate competitive entry. The reason why new (fee paying) schools are not appearing in anything like sufficient number to meet the demand, are the barriers to entry, created mainly by the capital cost.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 14:40

David - Agreed.

To further hone the point, it is my position that to knowingly set up Free Schools in areas already served by good schools (irrespective of their label) minimalistically is financially reckless. But when you add in the costs you describe and the damage to those existing good schools and the negative impact escalates exponentially (e.g. deficit budgets through reduced pupil in-take leading to reductions in school staffing levels and loss of confidence and the unvirtuous circle spirals into a formerly good school becoming a grade 3 or 4 with all that entails). Even in financial terms the negative impact of the return on investment (funded by the taxpayer) becomes criminally negligent.

During financial austerity and cuts to public services, public wages and pensions to pursue a policy that wilfully and knowingly fritters away huge amounts of taxpayer resources should, in my view lead to prosecution and incarceration.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 14:47

David - In terms of fee paying independent schools I tend to agree that the capital cost of start up from new are financially daunting but there again it comes down to economy of scale and innovative approaches. For example, a small non-association independent school could set up in a former office block or even redundant academised state school. For the latter one only has to look at Wapping High School (which is a Free School established in former multi-storey office block.

Guest's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 07:47

And the merry go round of opinion continues with more interesting stuff here

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 14:11

The link provided by Guest is to a BBC News item entitled, Religious Education classes 'needed' in schools. This is a quote.

" Developing young people's "religious literacy" would help to make them less vulnerable to radicalisation, a conference will hear later.

"Good religious education has never been more needed," Ed Pawson, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, will say."

Today's Sunday Times publishes a tweet from one of the three young girls feared to have flown to Turkey to join ISIS.

"Make dua [pray] for me, really need it. Pray Allah grants me the highest ranks in jannah (paradise), makes me sincere in my worship and keeps me steadfast."

I find it almost unbearably tragic that such thoughts can cause a young schoolgirl to abandon at such a young age her control over her own life prospects in exchange for the promise of 'paradise'.

There has been much discussion about 'hate preachers' and 'radicalisation'. What if ordinary prayer and worship is enough?

The motivating power of rewards in paradise for martyrdom (or lesser sacrifice) is clearly a very powerful motivating influence on those that are 'radicalised'.

I am reminded of a Christian Aid slogan I rather liked.

'We believe in life before death'.

I would like Ed Pawson to explain exactly how he thinks better RE lessons would help.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 17:25

And reading through this site I have notice another, really relevant posting about Cuckoo Hall here:-

Andy V's picture
Sat, 28/02/2015 - 18:52

This scenario raises some interesting and potentially very awkward questions:

1. What were the reasons for / circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous HT?
2. While inspectors do have a remit to ask questions around the sensitive issues involved in British values and preparation life in a diverse multicultural society that in no way gives licence to ask pupils distinctly personal questions or interview any pupil on a one to one basis behind closed does, which are quite serious allegations in the Chair of Governors letter dated 1 February.
3. If it can be corroborated the allegation that the inspection was triggered by 'whistleblowing' by the previous HT then serious questions need to be asked.

It seems to me that this has all the ingredients of a real problem for DFE and Ofsted.

If I were the Chair of Governors I'd be making a Data Protection Act and FOI request for the all the evidence forms that form the evidence base for the inspection. These carry no personalised data and as such cannot be withheld. Indeed, friends and colleagues indicate to me that this is why inspectors are not allowed to name people/pupils on their evidence forms.

Sounds like a good one for the adage, watch this space.

It is also quite, quite fascinating to see the polar opposite attitudes and approaches between CHAT and DFS, presided over by one Ms Morgan.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 09:12

David - Durham Free School is also facing a legal challenge from the former head Peter Cantley who is thought to be the whistleblower who flagged up concerns about DFS.

Cantley has asked DfE to strengthen governance of free schools.

Schools Week reports the schools gave pupils a worksheet saying God designed the solar system. It's a violation of a funding agreement to make such claims.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 11:26

Andy - Ofsted has denied making inappropriate and insensitive questions at Durham Free School. It says the school said nothing about this either during the inspection or when the draft report was sent to them.

The school then made allegations via the Daily Mail and other papers rather than raise a formal complaint through the proper channels.

The whole thing is a sorry mess. The school's been judged Inadequate on all four measures and given a Financial Notice to Improve.The pupils concerned have been in the centre of a nationwide media storm whipped up with no thought about the effect on them. They now have to find alternative schools. And questions need to be asked about why DFS was allowed to open in the first place when three nearby Good schools had surplus places.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 11:37

In cases such as this everyone tends to do whatever it takes to cover their backs. Assuming the matter goes all the way down the track of judicial review it will be very interesting to see whether the pupils who were allegedly asked questions of a highly inappropriate nature and those interviewed on a one to one basis behind closed doors without a chaperon, are willing to give evidence to that effect.

After all is said and done, there is a huge difference between asking a group of pupils about their experience of how the school covers topics such as gender and radicalisation and asking individual female pupils if they are lesbian or individual male pupils if they know anyone who is gay.

When set alongside the situation at CHAT it begs the question as to why the schools are receiving such wildly different treatment?

David Barry's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 18:36

I am not a lawyer, but I have had limited experience of Judicial Review processes.

( For example, I had a decision I made as Lead Governor of an NHS Foundation Trust challenged by way of Judicial Review)

What an application for JR does is challenge the PROCESS. It takes no interest in the outcome. In this case the core of the argument is that the Secretary of State did not use the correct PROCESS to close the school. Whether she was right to do so or not is not up for consideration.

There has been a discussion of this point on the internet Forum Mumsnet where a poster (posting under a pseudonym as is usual on that forum) with some knowledge of this area makes some relevant remarks, (and puts the point better than I):

"Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation (and, indeed, regardless of the truth or otherwise of the allegations regarding the behaviour of Ofsted inspectors) there appears to be an arguable case that the government has not followed the correct process in making its decision. The funding agreement says that the school can make representations to the Secretary of State before she decides whether or not to close the school. However, Nicky Morgan announced her decision before the deadline for the school to submit its case and spoke about the school in ways that suggested her mind was already made up. Note that judicial review will generally overrule the Secretary of State if the wrong process was followed even if the final decision was correct"

The poster later speculates as to why the S of S might have made an error by way of a premature announcement:

"I think it is a typical case of a politician rushing to make an announcement to show they are taking tough action when they would, perhaps, have been better advised to take more time and get it right. The fact we are now in the run up to a general election may well be significant."

What this highlights for me is a key flaw in the current system. The S of S ought not to be making these decisions. They should be in the hands of an independent official.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 14:58

I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe all this is really happening.

This is from Section 5.7 of 'Learning Matters'.

"[It was] the 1944 Education Act that established the principles of the post-war British education system. The character of local schools was strongly influenced, but not controlled, by Local Education Authorities (LEAs). This was exactly the intention of the 1944 Act. A uniform national framework of schools was created within which diversity on the basis of elected Local Authorities was encouraged with freedom from government interference deliberately built into the system. This was in part a reaction to the then recent sinister history of state control of the school curriculum in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union."

How wise this legislation was. Who could have foreseen the consequences of abandoning it for a marketising alternative? It was the responsibility of LEAs to maintain access to good local schools for all their children. No threats, EFAs or anything else was needed beyond a culture of 'civic duty'. It was impossible to imagine any scenario in which a school would be 'closed' for any reason other than demographic. Why would it be necessary when LEAs had both the power and the responsibility to act when things were going wrong? It is important to note that such powers accrued to LEAs through a local democratic mandate - effective devolution in action.

You don't even have to go back before 1988 to see this working. Henry Stewart's LSN post of July 2011 entitled, 'Hackney's Learning Trust: an example of what a Local Authority can do', makes a compelling case (reproduced as Section C4.11 in 'Learning Matters'). This is all the more powerful because the Learning Trust (now part of the Hackney LA) has managed to secure the continued voluntary co-operation of Academies in the process. Surely this points towards a route out of all this current nonsense, that Ed Milliband and Tristram Hunt should be taking note of.

The idea of having to close any school in order to ensure acceptable standards is completely ludicrous, but not of course if the school and all its assets have been handed over to an independent private provider, who is free to threaten legal action against any such suggestion. And who is to deny them such a course of action? If the state commissions services from a private provider then such commercial contracts cannot be cancelled without good cause and due process. The inclination of the Secretary of State is not enough.

We will have to wait and see what happens, but what is absolutely certain is that the far sighted and wise Conservative and Labour authors of the 1944 Education Act must be turning in their graves.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 16:22

Andy - I suspect the reason that DFS and CHAT are being treated differently is that no CHAT school has been judged less than Good. That said, it has been subject to an EFA investigation and a Financial Notice to Improve, and conflicts of interest particularly regarding family members have been discovered. In the case of Sawtry Community College when it received a FNI, the head was replaced and the academy is in the process of being taken over by another academy chain.

It appears CHAT is trying to minimise the damage to its reputation and keep its board intact (save for the ousted chair).

But serious question still remain: the bullying allegations (which should be investigated by an independent body and not by the trustees) and allegations of exam malpractice. Added to these is the rewriting of history. Gove appeares to be complicit in this (unless he was misled but his advisers should have checked) and questions remain how far CHAT's trustees were also involved in the fiction that Cuckoo Hall was in special measures when Sowter arrived and she turned it round to become Outstanding. We know that wasn't the case.

Guest's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 16:39

Unless Ed P reads this forum there is no way he can respond, which renders the question both rhetorical and completely one sided.

It crosses my mind that the need for "Good religious education" seems focused on:

1. presenting our young people with balanced views across each of the worlds major religions
2. encouraging and permitting discussion and debate between young people to explore both their understanding and feelings about key issues
3. creating a neutral environment within which it is possible to explore counterpoints to matters raised through the media or class discussion or (and this is rather important) matters raised and/or promoted at home or the after school religious groups (e.g. the Madrasa, Khalsa, Synagogue).

This is also where the issue of ensuring that British values and preparation for life in a diverse multicultural local to national and international community is so important. Not only to teach it but to get the definition/understanding right.

What cannot be regulated are the activities of:

1. social media and its glamorising of radical groups
2. parental attitudes and influences in the home
3. the impact of hardline uncompromising teaching and practices of back street religious schooling undertaken in non-school time

Throw into this mix the fact that the majority of those who become radicalised appear to be vulnerable and easily led.

No, schools cannot ever be a total answer to this tragic and vexed situation - there are too many out of school variables at play. But without a counter balance to those outside factors being made available in schools (e.g. RE, Citizenship, PSHE), where is it going to come from? Not to have such topics covered in schools is to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the hard hearted radicals with no challenge from young people equipped with a better deeper informed position.

All of this is based on reasoned logic and desire for nurturing an informed and balanced attitude among our school population.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 16:59

Guest - Presumably RE teachers do not seek to counter a young person's faith or to take sides in sectarian issues within religions. This being the case I am just asking, what is the RE teacher's response to the views expressed by the young girl in question? I am not arguing against citizenship, PHSE, history, philosophy etc playing an important part in a broad and balanced education, just specifically how RE lessons can combat radicalisation.

Guest's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 17:28

You as a former headteacher and now published learned fellow already know that in state schools teachers should not be peddling their own views; whether RE, political, sexual or otherwise. To do otherwise is to be unprofessional.

If you read the multi-faceted breadth of what is solely my opinion you will unearth your answer. You also miss the subtlety of the situation. It is not for the RE teacher to respond in a negative or a positive way - and least of all to give a personal opinion. An approach may perhaps be to use whatever program of study their school uses to facilitate a debate on the issue and also perhaps bring in what other groups in the national community might teach/believe e.g. religious and non-religious.

Another way of viewing your question is to invert it. That is to say, accepting that there are other first world nations where their curriculum does not cover RE and/or Citizenship and/or PSHE and whose young people nevertheless become radicalised (e.g. young French, German US citizens have made the journey to join IS), so what might the effect be if British schools took RE etc out of the curriculum? How likely is this to lead to an increase in radicalisation?

It seems to me that what Ed P was implying is that a strengthening of balanced teaching of RE may lead to a positive impact and in turn limit the number of young people being radicalised. I didn't perceive that he was suggesting that RE was the absolute answer.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 17:43

I agree.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 17:44

(with Guest's last post)

Andy V's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 18:41

Noted with interest and thanks.

I can only hope that a JR clarifies the situation and brings a sharper, keener and more balanced process to how these issues are dealt with.

'D' is Democracy, not Dictatorship :-D

Jane Eades's picture
Sun, 01/03/2015 - 22:09

and in the middle of all this mess are children!!!!

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/03/2015 - 10:26

David - you're right that Morgan appears to have been premature in announcing the school's closure. It's unclear why she did so when she only needed to wait a couple of weeks until after the deadline for the school to appear had passed when she could have considered their case against the accumulated evidence.

As it is, the school's pupils are caught up in a very public cause célèbre in which neither side, the school nor the DfE, who allowed the school to be set up in the first place, emerges with distinction.

David Barry's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 18:13

Well It would seem that this story is now moving towards its close.

The following is the text of an announcment made on the Durham Free School's website yesterday:

"Statement from the Chair of Governors

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that The Durham Free School will close at Easter. We have taken the difficult decision not to pursue a Judicial Review against the Secretary of State for Education. Even if successful, it would do little to assure the school stayed open. Our priority must be to focus on helping the children and their families who have been so badly affected by this terrible miscarriage of justice and to make their last days at the school, which has become like a second family to many, as happy and celebratory as possible. We have asked if our “well wisher”, who was keen to fund legal action, would be prepared to donate these funds instead to further the interests of children and families in this area that have been so repeatedly betrayed by many of our public servants, both locally and nationally.

We will continue to work to expose the corruption and campaign of misinformation that has been used to destroy the school.

Our immediate priority however will be working with all of our current families to help them find the very best solution for their children now that their chosen provision has been removed. Work with Professor Tooley of Newcastle University will continue, looking at alternative provision that could be made available to our communities, whose educational choice at Secondary level continues to shrink.

I’d like to thank all who have supported and believed in what we have tried to do for our children. Above all, I would like to thank our brilliant staff who have been slandered in parliament, have had their livelihoods threatened and yet have been exemplary professionals, putting aside their own worries to keep strong for our children and have looked after and educated them so well through this distressing time.

Some people will say that the money spent on our young people's education has been wasted (no doubt with gross exaggerations of the amount spent): I know this has not been the case. The short time many have spent at The Durham Free School has already had an extremely positive, and in many cases, a truly transformational impact on their lives. We wish them every blessing and success moving forwards. They are a very special group of young people and it has been a privilege to serve them and their families.

John Denning
Chair of Governors
7th March 2015"

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