THE HEAD of a Sikh ethos free school where 22 pupils who did not choose it have been allocated has insisted it is not a faith school and is urging parents to see it for themselves.
The Khalsa Science Academy principal Brendan English said its ethos was inclusive and focused on respect for all. The free school opened in temporary premises next door to a Sikh temple in Chapeltown, Leeds in 2013 and was expected to move to a permanent base, in Alwoodley, for the 2015/16 academic year.
It has found itself at the heart of a school places row after Leeds City Council allocated places to pupils based on how close they are to its future home in Alwoodley.
However a delay in building the new school means it will not be opening there from this September as planned. The school only discovered this during the Easter Holidays.
Now some parents face travelling several miles to a school they did not choose. There has also been concern voiced by some parents about a requirement that all school meals including packed lunches are vegetarian.
School spokeswoman Katrina Cliffe said this requirement would change once the school moved to its permanent base.
She added: “The Sikh Temple has provided the school with a temporary home for the past two years and we need to be respectful of their faith, however once the move to Alwoodley is complete there will be a meat option on the menu.”
The school is holding an open day on Monday May 18 for parents to find out more. And it is urging those who have been allocated to the school to see it for themselves.
Mr English said: “If they come here and see what we do they can make an informed decision. If they still feel its not for them I wouldn’t mind helping them with their appeal.”
One of the main concerns mentioned by some parents was that their child was being given an education based on a Sikh ethos when they had not wanted to send their child to a faith school of any kind.
However Mr English said: “We are not a faith school. And our Sikh ethos is about inclusivity, equality and having respect for everyone. If you changed the word ‘Sikh’ with words ‘universal ethos’ it would describe us.
He said the school was committed to teaching the Leeds agreed syllabus for religious education and had already worked with a church during Harvest Festival and visited a synagogue.
The free school has been embroiled in controversy over its future site at the former Fir Tree School, in Alwoodley, after Schools Minister Lord Nash made a land scheme which meant Leeds City Council had to hand it over to the Khalsa Education Trust in October last year - with a view to it opening this September. However it emerged during the Easter Holidays that this had been delayed. Mrs Cliffe said that the school would still definitely be moving to the site and would find out more about the time scale in May.
It is now working on plans to provide its own transport for children living in Alwoodley to take them to and from the school in Chapeltown.
JM Architects have been appointed to develop plans for the Alwoodley site and to provide an extra classroom at its current site for the new reception class.
Leeds City Council has said that of the 30 places available in reception at Khalsa eight parents had chosen it and another 22 who did not choose it had been placed there based on its future location.
However the school said that several of those parents who not chosen it had indicated that they now intend to take up the place. The school says it also has 14 pupils from outside the area on a waiting list who want to join it. Mrs Cliffe said: “On our Facebook group one of the parents who was allocated the school was so impressed that even if she was given one of her five preferences she would still chose Khalsa - that says it all.”
In this post on Facebook the parent Bolatito Aminu Balogun said: “I decided to call in to reject the place, I spoke with Brendan the head teacher. He asked me to come in and look at the school and if I did not like it, he would talk me through the appeal process...I drove to the school, still very apprehensive, As soon as I met Brendan, my apprehension started to fade the minute he started talking and telling me the future plans he had for the school, what they are doing now. He is a man with a strong vision and very strong goals for the kids. Which I absolutely loved. Brendan showed me round the school. As soon as we got into the reception class, which I actually thought was the year one class. I was blown away.”
Mr English said the school wanted to promote aspiration and leadership and was giving children prefects roles from the start of their education.
“It is unusual for schools to do this so young and some people might think they don’t understand what a prefect is but they do understand they have been given additional responsibility and that is a start.”
The school is currently based in a converted sports hall with two classrooms created within it. Mr English said he was proud of the facilities they had created. “We have invested money in quality furniture, in interactive whiteboards. We want the children and parents to know we are giving them the tools they need to be successful.”