Al-Madinah Q&A: what next for 'chaotic' Muslim free school?
Labour claims damning Ofsted report proves free school scheme is a 'dangerous free-for-all'
OFSTED has published a damning report into the Muslim free school accused of segregating its pupils by gender and forcing its female teachers to wear the hijab. As Al-Madinah School in Derby battles to stay open, the government faces accusations about the dangers of its free school scheme as a whole...
How did this all start?
Last month, a number of female teachers at Al-Madinah School in Derby claimed they were being told to wear a hijab. The school, which opened in September 2012 and has 412 pupils aged four to 16, was already under investigation by the Education Funding Agency over alleged financial irregularities. A dress code for staff, leaked to the Derby Telegraph, stated female teachers should have only their faces, hands and feet visible. It was also claimed that girls had to sit at the back of classes and that staff could not take non-halal food into school.
What happened next? The accusations of discrimination, along with concerns over teaching standards, prompted an Ofsted inspection to be brought forward to 1 October. The BBC reported that its findings were so damning the acting head-teacher at the school had little choice but to shut it down immediately. The school claimed the move was due to a "health and safety issue" and re-opened a week later, on 7 October.
What did the Ofsted inspection find? The report, published today, gave the school the lowest ranking of "inadequate" in every category, from the quality of teaching and leadership to the achievement and safety of pupils. It said that boys and girls eat lunch in separate sittings, although the school puts this down to the small size of the canteen. Older boys and girls are seated on either side of classrooms, while younger children sit together. The report concludes: "This school is dysfunctional. The basic systems and processes a school needs to operate well are not in place. The school is in chaos and reliant on the goodwill of an interim principal to prevent it totally collapsing."
What next for the school? The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has called for Al-Madinah to be placed in "special measures". This means the school would undergo a two-year programme in which it is regularly inspected by Ofsted at short-notice to check that it is improving. If it continues to perform poorly, the Education Secretary can choose to close it. However, at the same time, the Education Funding Agency has threatened to pull its funding altogether if it fails to meet 17 criteria laid out by Education Minister Lord Nash on 8 October. Nash wants to see proof that the school's curriculum is broad and balanced, and that women and girls are treated as equals alongside the men and boys at the school. The school today acknowledged that it has a lot of issues to deal with but insists it has a future.
What is the impact on the government's free school scheme? The fiasco is likely to cause embarrassment for Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who introduced free schools in 2010. In England there are more than 170 free schools, which operate outside local authority control but qualify for state funding. Labour's shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, said the Ofsted report exposed the government's free school programme as a "dangerous free-for-all" and questioned how it had been allowed to happen. He added: "Far from an isolated incident, the failings at this school reveal the systemic threat to education standards under this government." ·