A FREE school which has had more than £3m Government funding for new facilities and building work has attracted just 11 new pupils this month after opening with eight children last year.
The Leeds Jewish Free School now has fewer children across two year groups than many secondary schools have in a single class.
The secondary free school in Alwoodley opened with eight pupils in its first year seven and attracted two more children during the year.
Now another 11 have joined in this term’s year seven. Teaching union officials in the city are questioning why public money has been put into a scheme “which is in such low demand” at a time when Leeds is facing a school places crisis.
However the school’s head teacher Jeremy Dunford said there was a larger cohort of Jewish pupils in the primary school system and that the secondary school expected its numbers to increase significantly over time.
The Leeds Jewish Free School is on the same site as the existing Jewish Brodetsky Primary School with Mr Dunford serving as head of both.
A £3.1m expansion and refurbishment on the site was completed in March this year giving the school state-of-the-art science labs, a food technology kitchen and a design and technology studio.
Apart from its religious studies all the teaching at the school has been contracted out to another Leeds academy - Rodillian – which sends its teaching staff to the school to deliver subjects in double lessons.
Mr Dunford said this model allowed the school to deliver a full curriculum.
Patrick Murphy, the National Union of Teachers branch secretary in Leeds, said: “It is not just that this is such an awful waste of public money - which I think it is because there is so little demand for it - but it’s that this is taking place against the backdrop of a city which is having to work hard to find the resources to create new places and which is facing major shortages in the primary school sector which will work up to secondary schools over time.”
Mr Dunford said that starting any new school was challenging and that the free school should not be judged on whether it has achieved value for money over two years but over the next ten years.
He said before the Leeds Jewish Free School opened, parents were having to send their children to Manchester in order to receive a Jewish secondary education - which was “unacceptable”.
The free school’s capacity is only for 25 pupils per year meaning 11 children is almost half full.
Mr Dunford said year groups at Brodetsky Primary were increasing in younger years and he anticipated attracting more pupils to the secondary free school in future.
Currently around 60 per cent of the secondary school’s pupils are Jewish.