Free school closure is blow to Gove programme

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Around 70 pupils will need to be re-schooled by April next year after the closure of the Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex. Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire

Is the Government's flagship free school programme really in trouble? The Education Minister Matthew Hancock insists not, arguing the problems that have led to the sudden demise of the Discovery New School are not typical.

"Of course, I regret the fact that this school has ended up in the situation it has," he told me. "I am passionate about improving school standards."

But he went on to say: "The system as a whole across the country is working. That's what I am responsible for."

And yet only yesterday, it emerged that Ofsted had issued a second damning report on another free school, Al-Madinah in Derby. It said the school "remains in chaos".

Worryingly for ministers, the man they have asked to intervene, Barry Day of the Greenwood Dale Trust, has indicated he has yet to decide whether to take over the running of the school.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has passionately pushed free schools since taking up his coalition post. Credit: Tim Goode/EMPICS Entertainment

Today, sources close to the Education Secretary were eager to point out that nearly three-quarters of free schools are judged to be "good" or "outstanding" by Ofsted.

Meanwhile, there are said to be 44 schools under local authority control which have been in "special measures" for at least 18 months.

Michael Gove believes his free schools are still a vote-winner with many parents but today's events are likely to undermine confidence in his flagship programme.