Khalsa free school site move in Leeds delayed by a year

Lessons at the Khalsa Science Academy. Picture: Simon Hulme.
Lessons at the Khalsa Science Academy. Picture: Simon Hulme.
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A FREE school which became embroiled in a places row after parents objected to being sent to a primary miles from their homes has delayed its planned move to its permanent site until next September.

The Khalsa Science Academy had been due to move to Alwoodley, in North Leeds, this September but the school has now told parents it will not happen until 2016.

The current temporary base for Khalsa Science Academy.

The current temporary base for Khalsa Science Academy.

The Sikh ethos primary school opened in 2013 in a converted sports centre next to a temple in Chapeltown.

It only found out from the Government during the Easter Holidays that its move to a permanent home had been delayed.

Leeds City Council’s deputy director of children’s services Paul Brennan said the case highlighted the uncertainty free schools can cause when planning for school places.

The school’s delayed move caused controversy following National Offer Day in April as Leeds City Council had allocated places to parents in Alwoodley based on how close they lived to the free school’s future home on the former Fir Tree School site.

However from September these parents were now facing a commute to and from Chapeltown where the school is currently based.

Some parents also objected to being allocated to a school with a faith ethos - that they did not choose and with the requirement that school meals have to be vegetarian while the school is located on the grounds of a Sikh temple.

Khalsa has stressed that it is not a faith school and is open to pupils of all faiths and none. The requirement for meals to be vegetarian will end when the school moves to its future home.

The school has written to parents saying the planned move to Alwoodley will take place in September 2016 - meaning the school will stay in its temporary base for the whole of the next academic year.

In the letter school principal Brendan English says: “Following a number of discussions with the Department for Education and Khalsa Education Trust the decision has been made to postpone the move to our new premises to September 2016. At Khalsa we are committed to providing an outstanding education for our pupils and as such we feel that relocating to a completed site as opposed to opening during the build phase will be of maximum benefit to our pupils.

Although opening a free school during a build phase is quite common, we feel that while we have more than sufficient temporary premises we should continue to deliver education within the Chapeltown site to ensure minimal disruption to the children’s learning experience.

“We are of course excited about our move to Alwoodley and within the next 12 months we will be able to work closely with the Department for Education to ensure the new site provide first class facilities to both our children and the wider community and we are already making good progress with the site following a number of design user group meetings with the architects.”

The parents were also told a separate letter would detail transport arrangements for taking pupils between Alwoodley and Chapeltown.

Mr Brennan, said: “While we welcome the contribution free schools, like Khalsa, can make to our city’s educational community, they can cause uncertainty when it comes to planning places. Our admissions policy requires us to allocate places based on the school’s permanent location which, when delays like this happen, mean further disruption for those families who live a distance away from the temporary site.”

The school’s chosen site was the source of controversy last year after Leeds City Council attempted to stop the Department for Education from obtaining it for the Khalsa Education Trust.

The council originally said it was being forced to hand over an asset worth around £1m and later said it wanted to use the site for special education needs provision.

However the Schools Minister Lord Nash made a land scheme which meant the council had to hand it to the trust running the free school.

The site was chosen by the DfE rather than the school and the delay in the move is out of the school’s hands

In Khalsa’s original application to open a free school it had said the school should be located in the heart of Chapeltown.

Many of the parents who originally objected to being allocated a place at Khalsa have since been found places at schools nearer to their homes as a result of the 90 extra places secured by Leeds City Council.

Khalsa said it also had parents from outside its catchment area who wanted to come to the school and had been on a waiting list.

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