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Discovery School closure: £9m flagship science school forced to shut just four years after opening

Discovery School Photo: NCJ Media

A flagship free school has been forced to close after problems with teaching, safeguarding and pupil recruitment.

Teachers, students and parents have been informed that The Discovery School, in Newcastle, will shut its doors for good by the end of August.

Government withdrew funding for the specialist STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) school ahead of its second-ever Ofsted report, which is expected to brand the institution ‘Inadequate’ once again.

Opened in 2014, with a reported £9 million spent on its creation, the free school invited students from across the North East to experience an “alternative option to a traditional school” focusing on engineering and technological subjects and working closely with industry.

But Ofsted inspectors said in July 2017 that it had a “narrow and unbalanced” curriculum which was “failing to meet pupils’ needs”.

In March this year, The Discovery School hit headlines after concerns were raised about its safeguarding arrangements, when a child was left behind in London on a school trip. It’s understood that Ofsted were called in for a snap visit after the error, while Newcastle City Council was asked to step in to offer support.

It has also struggled to attract pupils: despite capacity for up to 700 pupils, it currently has 218 on the roll.

In a letter to parents, principal Gareth Rowe said the Minister for Schools had cited “capability and capacity issues” in his decision to terminate its funding agreement.

He wrote: "We understand the disappointment and concern this news will cause."

He added: "We have had assurances from the relevant local authorities that no child will be without a school place for September 2018.

Students, many of whom are currently in the middle of their GCSEs and A Levels, will be able to finish this academic year, and their ongoing exams, at the Discovery School. After that, students in Years 9 and 10 will have to apply for new school places through their local authority.

Any Year 11 or 12 students who were intending to stay on for the rest of sixth form will be offered places at Newcastle Sixth Form College or Newcastle College - fellow members of the NCG group, which sponsored the Discovery School.

Newcastle City Council says it has “worked closely” with the school since it opened, and attempted to help attract pupils, address any safeguarding issues and support teachers and leaders.

Council Leader Nick Forbes said the school’s failure reflected poorly on the Government policy of academisation, which he said prevented the authority from holding such schools properly accountable.

He said: “The enforced closure of the Discovery School is a damning indictment of the Government’s high-risk experiment in our education system, one which allows schools to operate in Newcastle with no ability for parents or locally elected representatives to intervene when things go wrong.

“Councils are faced with a ludicrous system where all new schools must be academies or free schools, without any local accountability.”

The school says all GCSE students will be able to continue their studies “uninterrupted” and post-16 examinations will take place as usual this month and next.

Newcastle Connexions Service will be on site at Discovery School to offer support and advice about next steps.

The Department for Education has been contacted for a comment.