Questions over Leeds free school site delay as four-year-olds face bus journey through city

The proposed site for the new Khalsa Science Academy, Leeds
The proposed site for the new Khalsa Science Academy, Leeds
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THE DEPARTMENT for Education is facing questions over why it failed to ensure a free school was ready to move to a permanent site this September - after parents were told their four-year-old children could be bussed to its temporary location miles away from their community to a primary they did not choose.

The Khalsa Science Academy in Leeds was expected to move to a site in Alwoodley this year after Ministers issued a legal order for the council to give it to trust running the free school.

However the Sikh ethos primary school discovered during the Easter Holidays that the site would not be ready this September. A school spokeswoman said it hoped to find out next month when the move can take place.

Leeds City Council has allocated places to the school based on its future location on the former Fir Tree school site.

Of the 30 places available 22 have been given to parents who did not choose it for their child. Eight people put the school down as a preference, four of which were from Leeds. Some parents in Alwoodley voiced concern about being sent to a school miles from their home that they did not choose and which has an ethos based on a religion they do not follow. Because the school is currently based at a Sikh Temple in Chapeltown all school meals including packed lunches have to be vegetarian.

Coun Judith Blake asked why the DfE had not got the Alwoodley school site ready for September having “taking unprecedented measures o take it off the council in October last year.” She said she understood that the department had lost the contractor it had in place.

Schools Minister Lord Nash made a “land scheme” giving the Fir Tree site in Alwoodley to the Khalsa Trust in autumn last year. At the time Leeds City Council said it was considering taking legal action to retain the site. The council said it was planning to use the former school site for special needs provision. In a public meeting last year the council’s Labour leader Coun Keith Wakefield described the Government as “holding a gun to our heads” over securing the site.

Khalsa Science Academy opened in 2013 in temporary premises next to the Sikh Temple in Chapeltown. It is not a faith school but is described as having a Sikh ethos.

It has spaces for 30 pupils per year group but figures from the council last year showed it has 20 pupils in year one and 12 in its current reception.

When asked about the delay in providing a permanent home for the school a DfE spokesman said: “We are committed to opening on the planned site and are working to reach the best outcome for the school, its pupils and taxpayers.”

He said he could not comment further because of commercial sensitivity.

Patrick Murphy, the Leeds National Union of Teachers branch secretary questioned why pupils had been allocated to a school miles from their home and also criticised the DfE for approving a school which has only had four people applying to it from Leeds this year. He said: “I can’t understand why the council and the DfE could not have realised earlier that this site was not going to be ready in September.”

A Leeds City Council statement said: “Our policy states that when a school is based at a temporary location we will use the permanent location to calculate distances. We were informed of the permanent location of Khalsa prior to the application ‘cycle’ therefore it was appropriate to use it during the process. The provision of transport offered by Khalsa to the temporary location ensured the offers remained reasonable, and so we offered these places in line with our policy.”

Students Hanyi Jin, Beth Arscott, Amarjit Singh, and Kate Stevens in the exhibtion space.

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