One of the first and most widely-acclaimed free schools in England has been found inadequate by school regulator Ofsted, Richard Adams of the Guardian reports. The recently published report on the Discovery Free School in Crawley, West Sussex, assigns the school the lowest possible grade and criticizes the institution’s leaders, calling them out for turning a blind eye to Discovery’s academic shortcomings and for holding to a misguided belief that the school was performing better than it was.
The school was graded “inadequate” for pupil achievement, quality of teaching, management and leadership – three of the four categories on which a school is evaluated. The report claims that too many students are leaving the school without reading or writing at grade level.
The inspectors said that the problems need to be addressed quickly or there’s a serious risk that Discovery students will fail to thrive in their secondary schools and for the remainder of their academic careers.
According to Ofsted’s scale, a school requiring special measures is “one where the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education”, and the school’s managers and board of governors appear unable to make improvements.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We expect those in charge of Discovery Free School to take urgent action to address the failings identified by Ofsted. We will closely monitor the situation and will not hesitate to take action, including terminating the funding agreement, if the school does not make rapid improvements.”
Discovery Free School uses the Montessori approach which is popular not only in primary schools in Britain but also in the US and other countries in Western Europe. Opened in 2011, it was supposed to be a centerpiece of the Coalition drive to provide greater school choice for British families. Eighty one publicly-funded by independently-operated free schools, similar to charter schools in the United States, are now operating around the country, and the inspection of 11 of them rated seven of them “Good,” three as “Requiring Improvement,” and just one – Discovery – as “Inadequate.”
The news of the report comes at a time when the future of free schools is uncertain. Although they continue to draw strong support from the Tories and their coalition partner Liberal Democrats, a recent announcement by Labour shadow education minister Stephen Twigg suggested that a Labour government would not continue the program. However, a closer analysis of Twigg’s remarks leaves room for doubt.
Twigg said in a speech that Labour intends to allow all schools the freedoms that are now only enjoyed by free schools and academies. He said all council-run schools would have more flexibility in choosing curricula and length of school terms.
Lord Adonis, the former Labour Schools Minister, wrote an article supporting Twigg’s view on community empowerment. He commended the choice to support all free schools that are already successful and ones in the process of opening for 2015, and that he will not tolerate failing schools.