Parents’ question free school relocation to North Leeds miles from its intended home

SOME of the parents campaigning for more places in North Leeds are questioning why a free school is being relocated to a part of a city it was not intended for.

Khalsa Science Academy in Chapeltown . Picture by Simon Hulme
Khalsa Science Academy in Chapeltown . Picture by Simon Hulme

They claim the site which is set to be used by the Khalsa Science Academy should instead be used for a school which is not linked to any faith to provide more choice for local parents.

Khalsa is not a faith school but does have a Sikh ethos.

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The primary free school opened in a temporary base next to the Sikh Temple in Chapeltown, in September 2013 and is set to move to the former Fir Tree School site in Alwoodley. It had been expected to open there this September but this has been delayed.

When Khalsa was approved its original application said it was vital that it be located in the heart of Chapeltown and that the local Sikh community there was the driving force behind the application.

However the Department for Education is locating it in Alwoodley after ordering Leeds City Council to hand over the former Fir Tree school site last year.

Leeds City Council had been threatening to take legal action to prevent the DfE taking over the site.

On National Offer Day in April the council allocated places at the free school to pupils based on how near they live to its future site.

Some parents objected to being allocated to a school they did not choose with a faith ethos they do not follow currently based several miles from their homes. Now some of the places campaigners in North Leeds are questioning why Khalsa is being relocated to Alwoodley at all.

Khalsa is not a faith school but has a Sikh ethos.

However Parent Martin Wheatley said the Fir Tree site should be used for a school which is not underpinned by a particular faith.

He said: “Between King Lane and Harrogate Road there are already Anglican, Catholic and Jewish primary schools. Adding yet another faith based school in Khalsa doesn’t really tally with the stated government aim of free schools and academies providing choice, unless they are implying that your choice should be education based on faith A or faith B. People who simply believe that religion and education shouldn’t mix, like we do, clearly suffer in this situation.

He added: “Khalsa was set up, funded and approved on the premise that the large Sikh community in Chapeltown would be happy to send their children there...What makes the DfE think that moving it to an area already saturated with faith based schools will improve demand? The number of Alwoodley parents fighting to get their children placed elsewhere after the council’s attempts to populate the Khalsa school should really tell them all they need to know about the feelings of locals on this subject.”

He said the number of parents in Alwoodley involved in the Fair Access campaign showed the need for a new school to serve that area.

The group was formed after parents in Roundhay, Moortown and Alwoodley joined forces. Parents say there were around 80 who had not got into any of their preferred local primary schools for this September.

Last month Leeds City Council secured 90 more places in North Leeds at Highfield, Wigton Moor and Gledhow, which has been hailed as a success for the campaign.

Commenting on Khalsa’s location, a A DfE spokesman said: “At the heart of our commitment to delivering real social justice is our belief that every pupil deserves an excellent education – free schools and academies are a vital part of this. Khalsa Science Academy will provide 420 primary school places for pupils of all backgrounds and faiths. We have been working with Leeds City Council since 2012 to find a suitable permanent site for the school. Khalsa Science Academy will make excellent use of a former primary school which has been empty since 2007.”

A spokeswoman for Khalsa said: “Although Khalsa Science Academy is underpinned by a Sikh ethos, one that promotes respect for others we can firmly assure parents that Khalsa is not a faith school and will provide primary school places for pupils of all backgrounds, faiths and none. The religious education on offer is in line with the Leeds City Council RE syllabus.”

She also said the trust’s preferred option was to find a site which a local authority was prepared to a lease at a peppercorn rent. “This has been an approach used for many free schools and was an option we discussed with Leeds, but they were unwilling to provide such a lease on the former Fir Trees site.” she said.