Free school that left pupil behind on school trip to close

A specialist science and technology free school in Newcastle will close this summer, three months after one of its pupils was left behind on a school trip.

The £9 million Discovery School is the third free school scheduled to close this year. It will shut over “capability and capacity issues” that have concerned ministers, according to the Newcastle Chronicle.

Last July, the school was rated ‘inadequate’ at its first inspection by Ofsted, three years after it opened. Inspectors singled out the “unacceptable” absence of humanities, arts or foreign language subjects. The watchdog also noted low pupil numbers.

Discovery also launched an urgent review of its safeguarding procedures two months ago after a pupil was left in London following a school trip to the capital. The 14-year-old was left at King’s Cross station when the rest of his group boarded the train.

Now the government has announced it is withdrawing the school’s funding in anticipation of another damning Ofsted report. The school says it expects to be rated ‘inadequate’ for the second time.

It brings the total number of mainstream free schools to have closed or announced closure since 2010 to eleven.

Discovery New School closed in 2014 while The Durham Free School, Stockport Technical School and the Dawes Lane Academy closed in 2015. St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall closed in 2016, while Southwark Free School, Atherton Community School and Bolton Wanderers Free School all closed last summer.

In February, Floreat Brentford primary school in west London announced plans to close over problems over “critically low” funding, and in May, the government announced plans to terminate the funding of St Anthony’s School in the Forest of Dean , which was blasted by inspectors for low standards.

The Chronicle reports that Gareth Rowe, principal at Discovery School, informed parents by letter yesterday that year 11 and sixth form pupils can finish this year’s exams at the school, but they and all other pupils must find new places from September.

In a statement, the school said the decision has been taken “based on well-documented issues at the school including safeguarding problems, poor teaching and leadership and the results of a recent Ofsted which is expected to deem the school inadequate”.

“We realise this will be upsetting for pupils and parents – and for staff who will be made redundant – however we cannot allow the situation to continue and believe that in the long term this will be for the best,” a spokesperson said.

“It is very early days and in the next few weeks there will be a lot of activity to ensure that the process of closure, and finding new schools for pupils is as straight-forward as possible. We will offer full support to those families affected.”

The school has continued to struggle with low pupil numbers. According to the Chronicle, the school has just 218 pupils on roll, despite having space for around 700 pupils.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the school had “let down” pupils, parents and teachers, and was not capable of making the required improvements quickly enough.

“The regional schools commissioner’s office is now working with the trust, Newcastle city council and other local authorities to make sure pupils find suitable alternatives to continue their studies with as little disruption as possible.”