Row over Leeds children allocated to Sikh ethos free school their parents did not choose

Councillor Judith Blake
Councillor Judith Blake
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MORE THAN 20 children have been allocated to a Sikh ethos free school they did not choose amid questions over when it will move to a permanent base.

Council bosses say that of the 30 children being sent to the Khalsa Science Academy in Leeds this September, only eight put it down as a preference and only four of these children were actually from the city.

Parents who did not choose it have voiced concerns at being sent to a school miles from where they live based on a faith that they do not follow - and at the requirement that all school meals and packed lunches have to be vegetarian.

The Khalsa Science Academy opened two years ago and was expected to move to a permanent home in Alwoodley later this year.

Leeds City Council has allocated places based on this location however it is currently based next to a Sikh temple in Chapeltown meaning parents face commuting several miles.

The delay in moving to the new site - which only emerged during the Easter holidays - means it will remain in a temporary base at the start of the next school year.

Coun Judith Blake said the authority had to allocate places based on where the free school’s long term home will be. However she voiced concern about whether the school’s current home will be suitable for the 30 pupils being sent there this September.

She said: “I will be seeking assurances from the Department for Education about the current site and if we do not get these assurances the council will intervene.”

Katrina Cliffe, a spokeswoman for the school, said it will find out in May how long it will need to stay at its temporary base. She added: “In the meantime the trust is absolutely committed in providing transport to and from Alwoodley daily. The technical team will be planning for an extra classroom which will have more than enough space for a third classroom.”

Parent Arin Saha is among the Alwoodley residents who has been allocated a place at Khalsa after missing out on his preferences. He has already appealed and is now questioning why Leeds City Council has allocated his son to a school when it has concerns about the site.

Mr Saha, a consultant surgeon at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, said in his appeal: “The school currently resides within the grounds of the Sikh temple on Chapeltown Road although we appreciate that the school will eventually move to a site in Alwoodley. It should be noted that the proposed new site of the school is still, at the moment, a building site with no evidence of new building or refurbishment. The school’s website itself acknowledges that it is not definite as to when the school will move to the new site but it will not be in time for the start of the school year. The school lies 2.8 miles away from our home and it is not within walking distance.

“There is a public bus every hour and the school has arranged transport from the proposed new site but this is a bus, on which our four-year-old will have to travel on his own. As parents, we do not feel

comfortable with just an arrangement; we would prefer to be able to drop and pick up our son directly at the school and as such the only way for this to happen is to drive along a main trunk road into Leeds City Centre every morning and afternoon, as opposed to simply walking to school.”

He added: “There are 18 other primary schools that are closer to our home than the Khalsa Science Academy. These include the five choices we had made – in essence our choices were local and reasonable but the alternative we have been offered seems to ignore the other 13 schools that are closer and easier to travel to.”

Mr Saha said that neither he or his wife were religious adding: “We are not a Sikh family. In the same way that we would not want our son educated in any school that is guided by a particular faith-based ideal, we do not feel that the religious ethos encouraged at this school is compatible with our own faiths, beliefs and philosophical ideas.”

He also voiced concern about the requirement for school meals to be vegetarian.

In his appeal he wrote: “We are strongly opposed to the restrictions we will have to make on our son’s diet by attending this school. The school is currently on the site of a Sikh temple and as such, all meals that are served are strictly vegetarian only. This restriction has even been extended to packed lunches that children can bring; we have been told that packed lunches must be strictly vegetarian and not even contain any egg. We respect the religious beliefs of the temple but can’t understand why these, and the restrictions they place on other children, have to be forced onto others who do not share those beliefs. The website of the school goes on to say that even when the school moves onto the new site, the policy towards school meals may not change. We do not wish to sound melodramatic but we do find it a little offensive that we would be told what we could and couldn’t feed out children based upon the school that Leeds City Council has allocated us.”

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