Six turbulent years for free school in Tyne and Wear
Grindon Hall Christian School, Tyne and Wear, has had six turbulent years since become a state-funded free school.
Formerly a private all-through school, Grindon Hall’s approval to become a free school in 2012 caused controversy when the private school’s website was found to contain a document saying it taught ‘creation as a scientific theory’. The head, Chris Gray, son of Grindon Hall’s founder, told the Guardian the statement was out-of-date.
Grindon Hall’s first accounts* as a publicly-funded school with Gray still at the helm showed the intake had doubled to 500 when it became a free school. But auditors found a problem. Just over £38k of government funding had been used ‘to settle liabilities of the old independent school’. This was temporary and had been repaid. But auditors considered funds had not to have been used as intended for the period of the loan.
The school’s first inspection** in March 2014 judged pupil achievement, teaching quality and behaviour to be good but leadership and management let the school down. Overall, Grindon Hall required improvement.
Inspectors returned in November 2014 and found Grindon Hall had deteriorated. The school was placed in special measures.
Worse was to follow. In January 2015, Grindon Hall received a Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI).
A monitoring report (July 2015) found Grindon Hall was ‘making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures’. Links had been brokered with two successful schools and Sunderland local authority was providing ‘effective support’.
The fourth monitoring report (February 2016) noted that Chris Gray had left. There were plans for Grindon Hall to join Bright Tribe Trust. But Bright Tribe didn’t take over until 1 April 2017 just after the school had been upgraded to require improvement.
Nine months after taking over, the increasingly beleaguered Bright Tribe announced it was dropping Grindon Hall along with all but one of its northern schools.
In March, North East Learning Trust was announced as Grindon Hall’s preferred sponsor but this hasn’t yet been finalised.
It’s to be hoped that this new rebrokerage coming just a year after the previous one will be successful. Grindon Hall has suffered six turbulent years and deserves a period of calm.
Former head of Grindon Hall Christian School rejoins private sector as head of low-cost, for-profit school
And what of Chris Gray, head of Grindon Hall when it was declared inadequate and under a Financial Notice to Improve? He’s rejoining the independent sector as head of the proposed low-fee, for-profit Independent Grammar School Durham (IGSD).
Interviewed on Radio Four’s You and Yours, Gray said IGSD would invest in ‘great teachers’. But this doesn’t quite match claims made by co-founder James Tooley that he would ‘employ fresh, new and so lower-paid teachers’ to maximise profit. And Gray’s claim that the small school would have a family atmosphere is undermined by Tooley’s admission of ‘larger class sizes’.
Such low-cost private schools aren’t needed in England.
*All accounts for Grindon Hall Christian School can be downloaded at Companies House.
**All Ofsted reports can be downloaded from Ofsted’s website.