On 29th October 2013, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, received an answer to a written question on accountability in free schools.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that there is a rigorous assessment of the leadership, aims and ethos of free schools.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash) (Con): All free school applications undergo a rigorous assessment against a number of criteria. The areas covered include: the education vision and plan for the school, which will cover its proposed aims and ethos; and the capacity and capability of the applicant group, which covers the track record and expertise of the trust members and proposed governing body, as well as their plans for recruiting a high quality principal. We also carry out due diligence checks on the suitability and track record of key members of the proposer group. The assessment criteria for the next round of applications will be published on the Department’s website shortly.
Where an application is approved into the pre-opening phase, those leading the project work closely with a named lead contact and an education adviser from the Department. Where any concerns are reported, including about their leadership, aims or ethos, the matter is escalated and an early decision is taken on what action to take in response, which may include cancellation of the project.
On 17th October 2013, a Government Statement was repeated in the House of Lords by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary State for Schools, Lord Nash, on the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby. The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, responded to the statement during the subsequent question and answer session.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I declare an interest as the Bishop of Derby and congratulate the Minister and his colleagues on the monitoring and firm action that is being taken. As I understand it, this is a very local initiative. What lessons can be learnt because if we do not have the local authority playing a key role, how are we providing the right kind of framework and guidance for local initiatives so that the right kind of standards, structures and expectations are put in place and met? What are we learning and how are we going to deal with that?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his question. This is a local initiative, it is quite a complicated situation and I do not have time to go into all the details now, but I can assure the House that we are all over this and will not allow this situation to continue.
On 22nd July 2013, Baroness Bakewell asked Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to encourage religiously selective schools to adopt more open admission policies. The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State that Church of England schools are most often found in very challenging areas in our communities and provide excellent education? Would he encourage the expansion of religious schools of that kind in oversubscribed areas?
Lord Nash: Where we have areas of basic need, we are keen to encourage all comers to help us. I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate about the performance of Church of England schools. Again, in respect of achieving five A* to C grades, including in English and maths, they score 62% versus 58%, and at level 4 of key stage 2 they score 82% as opposed to 78%. We would welcome expansion of these schools as they provide an excellent education.