Ministers have been forced to close one of the government’s flagship free schools because of fears over the standard of the education it was providing.
It is the first time a free school has been ordered to shut.
Schools minister Lord Nash has written to the Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, instructing the school to close its doors on 4 April next year.
The decision comes after the school was placed in special measures after a scathing report from schools inspectorate for England Ofsted, which labelled Discovery “inadequate”.
Yesterday, the first Muslim free school, Al-Madinah in Derby, was described by Ofsted as “remaining in chaos” in what has become a growing embarrassment for the government.
Ofsted’s inspection of Discovery led to its headteacher being replaced in a bid to lift standards, but the school failed to convince Lord Nash that it was moving in the right direction.
In a letter to Discovery’s chair of governors Chris Cook, published today, Lord Nash said that the school had been unable to deliver “even the most basic level” of teaching and learning.
“We know from inspection evidence that teaching and learning is inadequate in [Discovery], and that there has been little or no improvement since Ofsted’s judgement that the school required special measures in May,” the minister wrote.
“The number and nature of the actions and milestones to be achieved demonstrates that the staff are currently unable to deliver teaching and learning even at the most basic level with the consequence for the pupils of continued inadequate teaching for an unacceptable length of time.
“Further, the training implication for staff is enormous. It is difficult to see how they would be able to attend all the training listed and at the same time provide adequate teaching for the pupils.”
Despite the closure, a Department for Education spokesperson maintained that the “vast majority” of free schools were performing well.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the move was “yet another shocking example of why David Cameron’s flagship schools policy is failing”.
“This government promised that the free-schools programme would bring the rise in education standards we need, but instead, as the National Audit Office (NAO) reported this week, it has led to a huge waste of public money and poor standards and now ministers are having to close one down,” Mr Hunt said.
On Tuesday, the NAO published a report into the free-schools programme, which revealed that a quarter of the schools had opened in areas where there was no need for additional school places.
The campaign to open Discovery, a Montessori school, was led by a group of parents in an area where there was little pressure on school places.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the free school would not be the last to close.
“This comes as a surprise to no one apart from [education secretary] Michael Gove, because, as part of the first wave of free schools, this went through a dodgy application regime that lacked any transparency or accountability,” Dr Bousted said.
“This was a school for middle-class mothers run by a headteacher who had no teaching qualifications.”
Discovery helped to set up by the New Schools Network. The free-school charity’s director Natalie Evans said the closure was “the right decision”.
“As early Ofsted results show, the majority of free schools are delivering on their promise to parents to provide an excellent standard of education. But, like any school, if free schools are underperforming they must be held to account,” Ms Evans said.
“While realising how difficult this will be for parents and students at Discovery New School in the short term, we believe this is the right decision.”
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