Site row thwarts Bradford free school plan

Councillor Ralph Berry.
Councillor Ralph Berry.
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PLANS FOR a new Sikh ethos free school which was set to open this year have been shelved after the Department for Education failed to reach an agreement with the council over the planned site.

The trust behind the Khalsa Engineering Academy, in Bradford, announced that the primary school would not be opening on the site of a former community centre, in September, as planned.

It said this was because Bradford Council would not amend a covenant which said the site could only be used for community use. The Khalsa Engineering Academy had originally been planned to open in 2014 but this was postponed last year because of problems securing the Fagley Community Centre site. In August last year, a month before it was originally due to open the Department for Education (DfE) said it had been postponed and that it would work with the proposers behind Khalsa Engineering Academy towards opening in September 2015 . However today the Khalsa Education Trust (KET) announced this would not happen. Its chairman Harnek Singh said: “It is with deepest regret and sadness that we are having to share the news that unfortunately Khalsa Engineering Academy will not be opening at the site in Fagley this September.”

The school was described as having a Sikh ethos but was not a faith school

He said the team had met all the conditions other than securing a site. Finding a site has been handled by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) - an arm of DfE. Mr Singh said the EFA have made many efforts but failed to reach an agreement with the Bradford Council to amend a covenant.

The Fagley Community Centre site was passed on to a regeneration association by Bradford Council several years ago with the covenant placed on it that it should remain in community use.

There was controversy last year when it emerged the site had been identified by the EFA as a potential home for the Khalsa free school because it was still being used as a community centre - which has since moved. Bradford Council leader Coun David Green said: “We have had to balance the needs of the community with the needs of Khalsa to open up a school and its a judgement call but we did not feel able to relax the covenant. This land is for community use.” Coun Ralpy Berry, the council’s executive member for education said Khalsa had been caught up in a flawed system being operated by the Government. He said: “You cannot have the EFA going around looking for sites for projects without consultation with the council or community. We need to get back to proper local planning for the opening of local schools.” A DfE spokesman said: “Khalsa Education Trust has decided to withdraw from the project in the Fagley area of Bradford. Unfortunately, after exploring all options it was not possible to secure a suitable site for a September 2015 opening.” He said the decision would allow the council to find places for pupils who had applied to the school.

The KET said parents who had wanted to go to its planned free school in Bradford could consider its existing primary free school in Leeds - the Khalsa Science Academy.

The trust is now considering submitting a new application for a through age school or high school in a different location in Bradford.