A Government-backed free school which has been given £3m of funding has opened its doors in Leeds with eight pupils.
Campaigners have questioned why the Department for Education has supported a new secondary school with such low numbers in a city facing a major shortage of places in many areas.
However the Leeds Jewish Free School said its population will rise to 175 over time and that the scheme was providing the city’s Jewish community with the school it has wanted for decades.
The school is based on the site of the existing Jewish Brodetsky Primary, in Alwoodley, with the same head teacher, Jeremy Dunford. Teaching staff are being brought in from Rodillian Academy to provide secular teaching.
The new free school is based in a refurbished part of the Brodetsky site. Building work at the school to create the finished £3.1m premises will be completed in spring next year.
Mr Dunford said it expected to be filling its 25 year seven places by the school’s third year. However opponents of free schools have voiced concern as Leeds is expected to face a shortage of secondary places by 2017.
National Union of Teachers Leeds branch official Richard Raftery said: “We have real concerns where free schools are opening in places where the demand is seemingly not there, irrespective of who is behind the school, especially in Leeds where there is going to be enormous demand in other parts of the city.”
Pat Payne, whose own “dyslexia friendly” free school bid in Leeds had to be withdrawn because of low pupil numbers said: “I have no issue with the school itself and I have defended the idea of free schools to the hilt in the past but it does just seem grossly unfair that we lost our support from the DfE when we had more pupils signed up for a primary school.”
Councillor Dan Cohen, chairman of the board of directors at the Leeds Jewish Free School said he was not disappointed with pupil numbers and was delighted the school had opened.
He said that for years Jewish children had been forced to travel to Manchester to attend a faith-based state secondary and there was a history of Jewish schools starting small and continuing to grow. The model of using outside teachers would allow the school to offer “excellence in education” he added.