UK

Muslim Free School In Derby To Be Permanently Closed, Department For Education Announced

07/02/2014 11:24 GMT | Updated 07/02/2014 12:59 GMT

A beleaguered Muslim free school which had been accused of enforcing hardline religious practice is to be closed amid concerns over the quality of teaching and curriculum, the Department for Education has announced.

The Al-Madinah secondary free school in Derby had been branded a "minefield" by secular campaigners, who said the system was being "exploited" by religious groups. The primary school will remain open.

In October, the school was lambasted by Ofsted as “dysfunctional”, criticism that led Shazia Parveen, the chair of governors, to step down from her position.

almadinah school

The Al-Madinah School was called 'dysfunctional' in a government report

Schools minister Lord Nash said: "I have come to the conclusion that it would simply not be in the interests of parents or pupils at the secondary school to continue to fund provision which has failed them in the manner now apparent."

He said the move would allow the trust to focus on the primary school.

Al-Madinah, which has been criticised following claims it discriminated against women, required staff to cover their hair regardless of their religion, and made girls sit at the back of the class, was rated inadequate in each of the categories Ofsted examines.

The school, which opened last September, was one of the Government's flagship free schools.

On its website it had described ''a strong Muslim ethos'' with shorter holidays and longer school days ''to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success''.

The website of the school is currently down for maintenance, but includes a link to the damning Ofsted report, stating that "failures in leadership and management are at the heart of the school’s dysfunctional situation".

In a letter to the Trust today, Lord Nash said it was "clear there is a great deal of work to do at the school".

"I am particularly concerned at the poor quality of secondary teaching and the lack of breadth in the secondary curriculum," he wrote.

"I have decided it would be in the best interests of those children in the secondary school to continue their education elsewhere from this September onwards."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The vast majority of free schools are performing well but where we have found failure we have acted swiftly and decisively.

"We have monitored Al-Madinah very closely since problems came to light last year. Based on the current situation we believe the new board - which began work last week - needs to focus efforts on the primary school in order to bring about the level of improvement required.

"The board has accepted our decision to close the secondary school and we have offered our full support in helping pupils to find alternative places before the start of the next academic year."

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "This is more evidence that David Cameron's Free School programme is damaging education standards in this country.

"Ofsted judged that Al-Madinah, one of the Prime Minister's flagship Free Schools, is completely dysfunctional.

"It has come to symbolise everything that is wrong with the Free School programme: unqualified teachers in the classroom and a complete lack of local oversight of these schools.

"Despite the continuing evidence that this programme is damaging standards, the Tory-led government is happy to plough on."

His comments were echoed by Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. "Once again Education Secretary Michael Gove has a lot of questions to answer about his flagship free school policy," he said.

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that the process for approving groups to open free schools is inadequate and that in his haste to open these schools, procedures for ensuring that providers deliver the highest standards of education are not in place.

"The free school programme must be paused so that the lessons of troubled schools such as the Discovery Free School, Al-Madinah and the King's Science Academy can be learned.

"Free schools should be brought within the responsibility of their local authority to ensure proper oversight of both their governance and the standard of education they offer."