Off with its head: Another free school loses its leader

The head of another free school, this time of IES Breckland in Suffolk, has stepped down after just over a year at the helm.

Sherry Zand, who became principal of the school in September last year, left her role last month in order to take up a different role with IES – the company that manages the school – closer to her family in Surrey.

The news of Ms Zand’s departure comes just a week after Lee Faith, the head of the Greenwich Free School, announced he was quitting his post.

It caps what has been a torrid week for free schools, during which Discovery New School in West Sussex was ordered to close and the country’s first Muslim free school, Al-Madinah in Derby, was described by Ofsted as still being in chaos.

The week began with the National Audit Office publishing a report that revealed a quarter of free schools had opened in areas where there was no need for extra places.

IES Breckland’s creation was steeped in controversy when the parent-led trust behind the school entered into a contract with the for-profit Swedish free-school chain Internationella Engelska Skolan, which now manages the school.

The charitable group behind the school, Sabre Educational Trust, signed a 10-year contract with the Swedish group in a deal worth £21m. The money pays for the entire running of the school, including teachers’ salaries, as well as IES’ management fee.

“Ms Zand’s contribution to establish and develop IES Breckland to what it has become today has been invaluable. We look forward to Ms Zand making a significant contribution to the further development of IES,” a spokesperson for the company told TES.

Ms Zand joins a growing list of school leaders to step down as head soon after a free school has opened.

As well as Mr Faith, Thomas Packer left the West London Free School after less than two years in the post.

In October, Annaliese Briggs resigned as head of Pimlico Primary Free School just weeks into the role. The 27-year-old had no teaching qualifications and joined from the think tank Civitas, where she worked on education reform.

Andrew Cutts-McKay, the head of Al-Madinah, left his position as the school became engulfed in controversy and threatened with closure.

After the departure of Mr Faith from the Greenwich Free School last week, Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said setting up a free school from scratch was a “tough job”.

“Heads of free schools are under immense pressure from the government to get good results quickly,” Mr Hobby said. “You can come under serious criticism from your local community and other schools in your area because the creation of free schools can create conflict.”

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