Crawley; Free School To Close

A free school ordered to close amid concerns about teaching standards was a "scapegoat'' for being an early adopter of a "rushed and ill-considered'' policy, it has been claimed.

Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, was told that it must shut its doors on April 4 - the first time this kind of action has been taken.

The school was declared failing and placed in special measures by watchdog Ofsted in May, and the Department for Education found it was not making the changes required to improve standards.

Schools Minister Lord Nash informed the 68-pupil school that its funding agreement was being terminated in a letter last week.

But in a strongly-worded response, the school's chairman of governors Chris Cook said they sensed Lord Nash was prepared to "crucify the school'' rather than consider their plans to boost standards.

Mr Cook wrote: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of free schools, the parents here know their children were thriving.

"All of us, parents, staff, and governors, recognise since Ofsted placed the school in special measures that changes needed to be made.''

But he went on: "In this season of goodwill we sense that you are prepared to wash your hands and crucify the school rather than engage in a proper conversation of our plans because it is easier to make the governors and teachers at Discovery New School the scapegoat for being an early adopter of a free school policy which the National Audit Office has rightly criticised for being rushed and ill-considered.

"We would ask that you reconsider your decision and that we be allowed a proper time to implement the changes necessary for this school to provide outstanding teaching and learning.''

Mr Cook said he would have expected the next Ofsted inspection to show improvements as skilled teachers had suffered under previous leadership.

He said it was "unfortunate'' that the quality of teaching and learning was measured when its new headteacher had only been in post for 12 days.

And he said parents who have contacted West Sussex County Council to try to get their children into other schools have struggled to find places.

One parent found that of the schools offering places for his child's year group, two were in special measures and three ``require improvement''.

The closure of Discovery New School - one of the first 24 free schools to open in 2011 - is likely to be seen as a major blow to the free schools programme, a flagship education policy of the coalition Government.

Parents plan to protest at 10 Downing Street to press for a chance to allow the school to implement its plans for improvements, Mr Cook said.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Committee this week, Education Secretary Michael Gove defended the decision by ministers to close down the Discovery New School.

"These are never easy decisions. I sympathise with the parents. But a balance does need to be struck,'' he said.

He indicated that in future such decisions could be taken away from Whitehall and made closer to the school concerned.

"I think in the future one of the things we should think about is how we develop an approach towards school entry and exit with multiple authorisers as they have in other jurisdictions,'' he said.