Founders of struggling Sunderland free school claim Government is ‘railroading’ them into Whitehall takeover

Grindon Hall Christian School
Grindon Hall Christian School

Bosses at Sunderland’s struggling free school claim they are being ‘railroaded’ into a takeover by Whitehall.

Grindon Hall Christian School was placed into special measures by Ofsted inspectors at the beginning of the year.

“It is the ‘who’ and ‘how’ over which we have grave doubts” ELIZABETH GRAY

They said the former private school, which opened as a state-funded free school in September 2012, was inadequate and needed to improve the quality and impact of leaders urgently.

Parents were also left angered by the inspectors’ judgement that pupils were intolerant to different faiths and cultures, with hundreds joining a support group backing the school.

Now school bosses say they have been told by the Department for Education (DfE) that the school must accept a new sponsor to step in and take control.

The DfE has selected new multi-academy trust Bright Tribe, run by North West venture capitalist Michael Dwan, as sponsor and told the school it must demonstrate within two weeks that it is making progress on talks.

But the school founders say they have “deep concern for the future of education and wellbeing of the students” under Cheshire-based Bright Tribe.

In a statement, they have accused the DfE of seeking to ‘railroad’ the school into the deal and failing to look for North East sponsors, saying: “the school must not be railroaded into accepting the DfE’s chosen sponsor”.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Nash, they say: “In July officials in your department started exerting pressure on the school to accept a takeover by Bright Tribe.

“We are told you believe that Bright Tribe is the “best fit” for our school. The threat of drastic action against us by the Secretary of State is implied if we do not comply.”

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Gray said: “We have no objection to a sponsor but it is the ‘who’ and ‘how’ over which we have grave doubts.

“We are astonished the department is expecting a decision from the school without any documentation whatsoever setting out the terms of the arrangement, or any guarantees to protect our Christian ethos, which delivers great results.”

The founders have always maintained Ofsted was wrong in its findings in November.

The inspection is still the subject of a formal complaint to Ofsted.

A DfE spokesman said: “Grindon Hall Christian School was placed in special measures in January following an Ofsted report that found issues with leadership, the quality of learning and safeguarding.

“It is also subject to two financial notices to improve. The Regional Schools Commissioner is seriously concerned about the school and has been exploring options for future sponsorship, including Bright Tribe, to provide the strong skills in financial management and governance required to bring about swift improvements.

“Every pupil deserves an excellent education and no parent should have to be content with their child spending a single day in a failing school.

“It is one of the great strengths of the free school programme that we can identify and deal with failure quickly, in a way that is not possible in all schools.”

Bright Tribe was unavailable for comment.