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Make swift changes free school told

A Muslim free school which discriminated against women and required staff to cover their hair has been ordered to make "swift" changes or risk closure.

Al-Madinah Free School in Derby has been warned by the Government that it must take immediate action to address concerns over the way it is being run.

In a highly critical letter to the chairman of the governors, Shazia Parveen, Schools Minister Lord Nash said that the school had failed to keep pupils safe, provide a good education and has discriminated against female staff.

He said that the school had "manifestly breached" its conditions, and can expect to lose its state funding - effectively forcing it to close down - if it does not take action.

Al-Madinah School, which is run by the Al-Madinah Education Trust, has been told it must provide evidence within the next week that it has stopped any practices that lead to women and girls being treated "less favourably" than men and boys.

It also has to notify all staff that they are not required to cover their hair if it is against their religion or beliefs.

Recently, there have been reports in the media that female teachers at the school were forced to wear hijabs even if they were not Muslim.

Other reports claimed that female pupils were made to sit at the back of the classroom and males at the front.

Interim principal Stuart Wilson told the BBC last week that he had not received any complaints from colleagues over the school's dress code and denied that pupils had been split up.

Lord Nash's letter says: "The Trust has manifestly breached the conditions of its funding agreement by failing to ensure the safety of children at the school; delivering an unacceptably poor standard of education; discriminating in its policies and procedures towards female staff; and failing to discharge its duties and responsibilities in respect of the governing body.

"I will not tolerate breaches of the commitments you gave when entering into the funding agreement."

Lord Nash said he was writing to "underline the scale of my concerns" about the school.

"Unless swift action is taken to address these concerns in a comprehensive way I will be compelled to terminate the school's funding agreement," he warned.

The school has been told to take further steps over the next few weeks including satisfying the Government that its curriculum is "broad and balanced" and that it is welcoming to children of all faiths and none.

Al-Madinah, which is one of the Government's flagship free schools, opened in September last year.

On its website it describes ''a strong Muslim ethos'' with shorter holidays and longer school days ''to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success''.

Lord Nash's letter comes on the same day that Ofsted confirmed that its report into Al-Madinah Free School, which was forced to close last week just hours after inspectors arrived, is due to be published in the next few days.

Ofsted also said that the school's principal took the decision to shut due to inspectors' concerns that records showing whether staff were cleared to supervise children were missing or incomplete.

The school re-opened to pupils yesterday.

While Ofsted's findings have not been finalised and none has been published, reports suggest the watchdog will judge it "inadequate", the lowest rating.

In a statement, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the school re-opened after inspectors made a return visit to ensure that the right checks - such as criminal records checks - were in place.

"Ofsted began an inspection of Al-Madinah School on Tuesday October 1," Sir Michael said.

"On the same day, the principal took the decision to close the school as a result of inspection concerns over safeguarding checks. Inspectors discovered that staff records showing whether they were cleared to supervise children were either missing or incomplete.

"The school remained closed until yesterday when inspectors made a return visit to satisfy themselves that the necessary safeguarding arrangements were in place and that there were sufficient numbers of adults with the necessary clearance for the school to function safely.

"In particular, inspectors needed to see evidence that CRB/DBS checks had been properly completed for employees and were held on an accurate, single central register."

Mr Wilson said at the time the school was closed that the decision had been taken on health and safety grounds, later insisting the action was to address a "short-term health and safety issue that has now been completely resolved and will not reoccur".

Al-Madinah declined to comment on the letter.


From Belfast Telegraph