Discovery School closure – Newcastle council motion criticises free schools agenda

Newcastle City councillors have passed a strongly worded motion attacking the Government’s free schools agenda and the leadership of the Discovery School. Councillors called the Discovery School an ‘unmitigated tragedy’ that has ‘ruined’ children’s life opportunities.

The motion came after a damning Ofsted report showed the extent of the problems at the school, which will close by the end of August 2018. In an unpublished report, leaked to the media, inspectors concluded that the school’s leaders had “not shown the capacity to improve the school” and that it had “hit rock bottom.”

As reported in the Evening Chronicle, Council leader Nick Forbes said the Discovery School operated ‘entirely isolated from the rest of the school community….serious questions need asking of the Government, of the school, and the regional schools commissioner of what they knew and when.”

Cllr Nora Casey, the Newcastle City Council cabinet member for children’s services who put forward the motion, attacked the Government for investing in free schools instead of local authority-run schools, where she said children “go to class in outdated, sometimes draughty and leaking classrooms”.

Other Labour councillors were highly critical of the Discovery School. Denton and Westerhope councillor Dan Greenhough said that displaced pupils had their life chances ruined for the sake of an “ideological experiment”’.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Cllr Nick Cott said he was “troubled” by what had happened with the Discovery School but criticised the Council leadership for a “culture of blaming the Government” and said the local authority could have done more to help pupils.

Full text of the motion passed by councillors on 27/06/18:

“Council notes the recent announcement of the decision by the Secretary of State for Education to close the Discovery School where the needs of the pupils attending the school seem not to have been considered.

Council further notes that:

  • Free schools have become the only option available for new school building, and it is of concern that free schools are funded and opened without having to provide evidence of local need. This creates a challenge for the Local Authority in its role as a school place planner;
  • A free school can be closed immediately by Ministerial order, without reference to the Local Authority or to the wider local community, and without a plan for an orderly transfer of students to other schools.

Council commends the work of Newcastle City Council staff, who worked hard to support Discovery School as soon as help was requested to ensure that the pupils were safe and to enable students to achieve their best outcomes.  Council also commends the work of other Newcastle schools to support Discovery.

Council condemns this closure as a failure of government policy.

Council calls on the Secretary of State and the Regional Schools Commissioner to work closely with Local Authorities in the course of the ongoing free schools programme to ensure good outcomes for pupils and communities and stability of school placement.

Council resolves to call on the government to:

  • give Local Authorities a role of oversight of all local state-funded schools so that support can be given in a timely manner to ensure good outcomes for local children and young people;
  • amend the Education Act (2011) to remove the presumption that any new school will be a free school or academy, and to provide Local Authorities with an appropriate level of funding to carry out their school place planning responsibility effectively;
  • provide adequate capital funding to Local Authority schools in order to ensure that buildings can be maintained and improved as needed, in light of the disproportionate level of funding currently directed toward the free school programme.
  • Council agrees to write to the Secretary of State for Education on these matters urgently.”
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