Failing free school told to close

One of the Government's flagship free schools - Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex - has been ordered to close amid continuing concerns about the standard of education it is offering.

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Founder blames Gove for free school failure

The school's founder says Ofsted has failed to provide support for the school. Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire

Andrew Snowdon, the founder of the failing free school in West Sussex, blamed Ofsted and Education Secretary Michael Gove's department for the problems at Discovery New School.

He told Channel 4 News: "The real failing is one of an out-of-control Ofsted and a Department for Education that hasn't always sung from a single song sheet or provided adequate support at the right moments.

"We were trying to do something very different here and always looking for short-term measures and quick results doesn't always produce what you want."


Parent predicted problems at failing free school

Parent Samantha Bateman withdrew her two sons from Discovery New School at the start of the school year because she predicted there would be problems:

I'm devastated for the parents, but I'm also devastated for the kids, and I'm very angry that all this has happened.

Right from the word go I could see problems. I could see this coming. The first thing that I noticed was that a lot of family and friends connected with the school were running it.

There was no oversight and this didn't seem quite right. We were promised an individualised programme so that our children could learn at their own pace, and that there would be small classes.

They said there would be a real community spirit and that it would be child-centred. Everything they promised wasn't delivered.

– Samantha Bateman, parent

Timeline of events at Discovery New School

  • September 2011 - Discovery New School opens in Crawley, West Sussex becoming one of the first 24 free schools in the country.
  • May 2013 - Ofsted inspectors rate school 'inadequate'.
  • June 2013 - Placed in special measures.
  • October 2013 - Founder and headteacher Lindsay Snowdon suspended. Interim headteacher Penny Crocker appointed.
  • November 2013 - Ofsted inspects the school again and reports that little progress had been made.
  • December 2013 - Department for Education announces that the school's funding agreement is being terminated on 4th April 2014.

Labour: Free schools suffer from 'lack of oversight'

Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has said that the Free School policy is "damaging standards" and that there was a "lack of oversight".

In his terrible rush to roll out the Free School programme, David Cameron has abandoned high standards and basic safeguards - and the pupils at the Discovery Free School have paid the price.

David Cameron is damaging standards by allowing Free Schools to operate under a complete lack of local oversight, transparency and accountability and by allowing them to hire unqualified teachers.


Council aims to 'minimise disruption to children'

West Sussex County Council has said it will make every effort to minimise disruption to the children who will be without a school in April.

We will work with parents to ensure that school places are found for pupils in accordance with published admission arrangements and we will accommodate parental preference where possible.

Although we have had no control over this situation, every effort will now be made to try and minimise disruption to children's education.

We hope that a meeting for parents can be arranged shortly to discuss options available to them.

– West Sussex County Council statement

Free school 'takes measures' to address concerns

A free school ordered to close by the Department of Education has said that it "echoed its concerns" regarding "inadequate" education being provided by the school in West Sussex.

The Discovery New School's chair of governors Chris Cook responded to Schools Minister Lord Nash's "grave concerns":

Since the monitoring inspection by Ofsted on 12 September the Governors of Discovery New School (“The Academy”) took the decision to suspend the Headteacher [...] pending an investigation as it is clear that trust and confidence may have been lost.

I would reflect that in the past eight weeks a real sea change in how the school perceives itself has taken place. I am pleased therefore to present to you a Further Action Statement which we believe properly addresses all the points raised by Ofsted.

Failing free school 'not in the best interest of student'

There were "grave concerns" about education standards at a West Sussex free school, which has been ordered to shut in the first of such case in England.

Schools Minister Lord Nash said he was terminating the Discovery New School's funding agreement. In a letter to the school's chairman of governors Chris Cook, he wrote:

None of the school's teachers were delivering good lessons and all were still consistently inadequate or required improvement.

I recognise that my decision to terminate the funding agreement is likely to be disappointing for pupils, parents and all those involved with the school, but I will not allow a failing school to continue with no clear, workable plan to improve rapidly. It is not in the best interests of pupils to remain in an inadequate school.

West Sussex failing free school 'did not show changes'

The Department of Education is working with West Sussex County Council to ensure children affected by the closure of a free school will have suitable alternatives, a spokesman said today.

Discovery New School was one of the first 24 free schools - a flagship education policy of the coalition Government - to open in 2011.

Since the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted in May, we have monitored progress closely.

The trust has not provided evidence they are making the changes required. [Schools Minister] Lord Nash has today notified the trust that the department will terminate its funding agreement at the end of the spring term.

– Spokesman, Department of Education
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