Journal opinion: The closure of Durham Free School

The Journal's opinion column for Tuesday, January 20, in which we highlight the failings that led to the closure of Durham Free School

Joe Giddens/PA Wire Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan
Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan

What a mess. What a shambles.

The only thing worth praising about the closure of Durham Free School was Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s decisiveness in bringing down the curtain once she had read its awful Ofsted report.

She didn’t mince words. Durham Free School, it appears, was failing on just about every level.

Most important of all – and Mrs Morgan spelt this out a number of times – is that the children were failed by the free school.

Her frequent references to the children are important. Because her predecessor, Michael Gove, gave the appearance of leaving the children out of his calculations when the free school programme was set up.

There is a place for free schools, particularly ones that target specific weaknesses in specific areas, like STEM subjects, for example.

But with Mr Gove, too much of the impetus for the programme came from his desire to get schools out from under the shadow of local education authorities.

He felt too many of these authorities acted as a drag on schools, snuffing out initiative.

Free schools can work with the right people to run them, the right mission , the right organisation and the right support. All of this was lacking at Durham, and the ugly row over the departure of its first headteacher only added to the sense of crisis.

That crisis has now been tackled by Mrs Morgan. But it is Durham County Council that will have to pick up the pieces.

While he was education secretary Mr Gove referred to the “smell of defeatism” emanating from schools in East County Durham.

From Durham itself there is a smell of another kind today. The smell of failure. And it’s coming from his programme.

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