The Al-Madinah Muslim free school has been branded dysfunctional and inadequate by Ofsted for hiring inexperienced teachers, failing to put basic systems in place and relying on a temporary head to prevent its collapse, writes Zafer Iqbal.
The school was approved by Michael Gove’s department in 2012 amidst controversy within the Derby community who had refused to endorse it.
The majority of pupils are shipped in from surrounding areas as the vast majority of the Derby community distanced themselves from the school proposal when concerns were not addressed.
The founders were not looked on kindly by the community after alleged mismanagement of the community mosque and crèche.
Auditors had raised serious concerns about financial irregularities and Ofsted had given them an “inadequate” rating for their handling of the childcare provision at the venue.
Further concerns surrounded the lack of transparency of the application for the free school, secret meetings with Department of Education (DfE) officials and leaks indicating political and personal agendas surrounding the school.
Despite requests for information, the founders refused to address questions and concerns or quash rumours. A public community meeting with a hundred parents in attendance was organised to demand answers but the founders refused to attend and answer questions.
The leaked Ofsted report highlights multiple failings, concluding an inadequate finding for everything in the school:
• The school is dysfunctional. The basic processes a school needs to operate well are not in place.
• The school is run by representatives of the community with limited knowledge and experience.
• Leadership and management, including governance, are inadequate and have been unable to improve the school.
• Pupil’s achievement is inadequate.
• Teaching is inadequate.
• Behaviour and safety is inadequate because attendance is low and declining.
• The governing body is ineffective.
• The school’s finances are not properly managed.
Inspectors noted attendance figures for the last academic year places the school in the bottom 10% of all schools nationally, there is no promotion of numeracy and literacy, some policies are in place but not followed and racist incidents are neither recorded nor reported as the school is statutory obliged to do.
The inspectors also criticised staff for being appointed to roles for which they do not have qualifications or experience, and the interim principle has a verbal agreement to lead the school until December 2013 leaving management and leadership in a precarious position.
Governors and management
The inspectors condemn the governors for failing to ensure the safety of the children at the school, failing to appoint staff with appropriate skills, failing to ensure public monies are properly spent and having knowledge and experience to monitor the work of the school adequately resulting in the school being in chaos.
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… The governors have failed the parents of this community who have placed their trust in them.”
The Chief Inspector has recommended special measures which is required where the school is failing to give its pupil a basic standard of education and where the school leadership, governors or managers failed to demonstrate they have the ability to run a school. Such schools are regularly monitored by Ofsted.
Al-Madinah representatives had been earlier downplaying the problems at the school on BBC Radio Derby. Abdullah Shah Jahan, Faisal Mohammed and Burhan Khandia blamed their woes on media hype.
With further revelations by the Sunday Times of around £95K cleaning contracts awarded to relatives of those in the leadership team, pressure is mounting to remove the self-appointed school leadership and replace them with those chosen by the local community.
Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary had written to the school last week demanding a series of changes otherwise he would terminate funding. It is unusual why he has not considered stepping in and removing an incompetent leadership team as he no doubt would have been made aware of Ofsted’s key findings.
Given the scale and number of serious concerns raised by the local community prior to the school’s opening, all strangely ignored by Michael Gove’s department, the school has been referred to Margaret Hodge MP of the Public Accounts Committee.
It is this committee that the National Audit Office as well as the various Departments and Secretaries of States have to answer for their management of public funds. The Chair will in due course decide if she will look into the matter. Gove may still be bought to task for his role in this fiasco.
The future of this school, its staff and pupils is bleak – something that could have been avoided had the school been set up in partnership with the local community, rather than the DfE appointing the usual suspects.