An open letter to Nicky Morgan, re the contrast in treatment of The Durham Free School and the "Trojan Horse" schools

Subject: An open letter to Nicky Morgan, re the contrast in treatment of The Durham Free School and the "Trojan Horse" schools
From: Jennifer Denning
Date: 8 Jul 2015

Dear Ms Morgan,
Having read further reports today in the news regarding the situation of the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham, I feel compelled to write to you again (although I know from previous experience that you will neither read nor respond to my letter) about the contrasting fate of The Durham Free School.
I read that one of the schools in Alum Rock is finally “making “reasonable progress” in its efforts to come out of special measures – having failed to do so in two previous monitoring visits.” I would like to know why this school has had yet another chance to prove itself, despite failing TWO previous monitoring visits and The Durham Free School has been given NO chance to even have a monitoring visit as you made your final decision to close the school the day before the first Ofsted monitoring visit was due to take place (and then subsequently cancelled!) - and then claimed that there was no evidence of imminent improvement? How could you know this BEFORE the visit looking at progress had taken place?
I would also like to draw to your attention the contrast between the behaviour at another of the “Trojan Horse schools, again which has been given multiple chances to demonstrate improvement, and The Ofsted ‘findings’ at the The Durham Free School. In Nansen Primary school I read:
“the latest Ofsted inspection highlighted a string of problems.
Teachers told inspectors that children as young as eight hit them without any action being taken when they reported it to the school’s leadership.
Racist name calling was said to be a “regular occurrence” with pupils saying they did not complain because nothing would happen.
Behaviour was found to have deteriorated to an “inadequate” level since special measures were imposed.
Parents told inspectors they were concerned about children coming home with “bumps and bruises”.
Contrast this, if you will, with a few of the only actual specifics the Inspectors could come up with against the behaviour at The Durham Free School:
“Some students spoke of derogatory name calling, silliness or physical altercations in class and on the school buses...
a few students quietly chatted to one another, a couple doodled and one played with a box on the table while the teacher was talking...
at times they fidget or sit with their heads in their hands looking glum…”
Of course, no bad behaviour should be tolerated, however, I am sure the discerning reader is able to see the incomparable nature of the complaints about behaviour in these two cases.
The report goes on to criticise the leadership of this Birmingham School (remember this is AFTER many opportunities to demonstrate progress and capacity):
“Leadership has weakened. The school is in an extremely fragile position.
“Senior leaders have not raised pupils’ achievement or improved the quality of teaching.
“The trustees and the executive principal have not kept a close enough check on the work of the interim headteacher.
"Consequently, some decisions made by the interim headteacher have not been in the best interest of the pupils.
“For instance, while resources are needed to support pupils’ learning, almost £7,000 was spent on refurbishing the headteacher’s room and a meeting room.”
Again, contrast this with what the original Ofsted report said about the new leadership put in place by the governors at The Durham Free School:
“The acting headteacher and deputy headteacher stepped up during the headteacher’s absence and they are developing a clearer vision for the school’s future.”
And: “Leaders have used pupil premium funding effectively to improve disadvantaged students’ reading skills.”
Again, the contrast speaks for itself!
While I am pleased for the Birmingham children that they have not lost their schools, and certainly wish the schools well as they seek to build their future, it is the government’s actions I would like to seriously question. Words such as “double-standards”, “gross unfairness”, “hypocrisy” spring to mind. Along with Sir Edward Leigh, in his recent speech to the House of Commons, I would like to question “...why the later (The Durham Free School) was being closed when despite allegations against the so-called Trojan Horse schools taken over by Islamic fundamentalists in Birmingham being far worse, they remained open...
“All the Trojan horse schools are still open. Whatever one says about Durham, the allegations against the Trojan horse schools were more serious than anything that was said about Durham.”
And yet The Durham Free School is being closed THIS EASTER, having had NO opportunity to demonstrate improvement, nor been given any extra chances or support as these Birmingham schools have. The children in Durham are being forced to join new schools part-way through an academic year - which everyone knows is detrimental to their education. The decision, even on this most basic level, has clearly not been made with the children’s best interests at heart.
One last point; another of the petty criticisms levied at The Durham Free School in the scandalously unbalanced report was that “the main corridor is sterile and uninspiring.” In fact, the main corridor is lined with a series of beautifully designed and presented posters, each celebrating a great Christian value…”Love, Hope, Peace, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Truth, Justice…” Since when, I would like to know, have these values become “sterile and uninspiring”? Our proud British heritage is rooted in these great, universal values. These are the British values that I and many others in our nation recognise and celebrate and if in “modern Britain” these are now considered to be “sterile and uninspiring” then I fear modern Britain has become a sad and impoverished place to live and grow up in.
Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Denning
(parent and campaigner for The Durham Free School)