In view of the scandal at the inadequate and dysfunctional Al Madinah free school in Derby it is worth recalling that some of us warned about such dangers.
Here is my question to Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove on 17 November 2010 and his reply.
"Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): What safeguards are there against extremists, including Islamists and creationists, setting up free schools?
Michael Gove: As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have a consistent record of opposing Islamic extremism. One thing we have done is to set up a new due diligence unit within the Department in order to ensure that the threat of extremism-not just from anyone who might wish to promote a free school, but from anyone who wishes to infiltrate our state school system-is dealt with......"
However as Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt told Parliament on 17 October 2013 "Today’s Ofsted report exposes the fact that the Government’s free school programme has become a dangerous free for all, an out-of-control, ideological experiment that has closed a school, leaving 400 children losing an entire week of learning. It is a devastating blow to the Education Secretary’s flagship policy, and reveals that pupils have been failed on every possible measure. Parents will want to know why the Education Secretary has allowed that to happen.
Contrary to what the Minister said, in a pre-registration report in July 2012, Ofsted deemed the school to be failing to meet basic child protection standards, even before it was opened. Why did Ministers not act on those concerns before signing a funding agreement for the school? Why have Ministers allowed a school to be run by large numbers of unqualified staff? Why have Ministers sanctioned “dangerous levels” of safety and behaviour, and why have they allowed children with special educational needs to be left to struggle? In a city where every child needs to be supported and educated to the highest possible level, the Education Secretary has sacrificed learning for ideology. It is not just Al-Madinah school that is dysfunctional; it is the Education Secretary’s free schools policy."
I believe that as our experience here in Redbridge shows, well run and regulated faith schools can make a great contribution to the education of our young people and our society but there is a real danger with the free school model brought in by the Conservative led government and supported by their Lib Dem partners. The safeguards set up are clearly inadequate. The government must ensure that all schools are performing to high standards, are accountable to the local community , and that there is no discrimination or coercion against girls and women teachers.