LEADERS of a Christian free school threatened with closure allowed a racist, sexist and homophobic culture to develop, Ofsted has claimed.

The independent schools watchdog has come under increasing fire since declaring Durham Free School (DFS) was failing in all areas earlier this week – a verdict which prompted Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to announce she intended to withdraw funding for the 18-month-old Gilesgate secondary.

Furious DFS leaders said Ofsted’s claim its pupils held discriminatory views and it was failing to prepare children for life in modern Britain was based on asking one pupil whether he knew what a Muslim was.

Today (Friday, January 23), Ofsted took the unusual step of publicly defending its conclusions, saying its inspectors considered “a wide range of evidence”.

The statement continued: “Inspectors found that senior staff at DFS had allowed a culture to develop where it was acceptable for racist words and sexually derogative and homophobic terms to be used.

“Leaders were failing to properly tackle or challenge this type of language and behaviour.”

In response, DFS said it did not tolerate discriminatory views and incidents of such attitudes and language were extremely rare.

A spokeswoman said the school agreed there was important progress to be made but pointed to Ofsted’s own conclusion that DFS was improving under new leadership.

Explaining her intention to close the school, the Education Secretary had said there was no imminent prospect of improvement.

Yesterday (Thursday, January 22), DFS chair of governors John Denning said the school had been a victim of the fallout of the attempted Islamic takeover of Birmingham schools – a claim firmly denied by Ms Morgan.

Ofsted also defended its damning report into Grindon Hall Christian School, in Sunderland, which is now in special measures, saying school leaders were not effectively tackling prejudice-based bullying and racist and sexist language.

Meanwhile, DFS parents have accused Durham County Council of bullying them into abandoning the school.

Families have until Tuesday, February 3, to convince Ms Morgan to spare their school.

However, the council has set a deadline of Wednesday, January 28, for them to apply for places in other schools.

Acting headteacher Julian Eisner said: “There seems to be a clear mission here to encourage as many families as possible to leave the school quickly so that even if we do win the fight to stay open, we will not be viable, given the reduction in pupil numbers.”

However, Caroline O’Neill, the council’s head of education, said parents could accept a place at another school in principle and then withdraw if DFS stayed open.