Hopes for Government green light on new Leeds school ‘in the coming days’
The long awaited building of a new school in south Leeds is hoped to be rubber-stamped in the “coming days” according to a senior Leeds city councillor.
Outlining plans to build temporary classrooms at a site in Middleton, the council’s executive member for schools Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) told a meeting that the process for building Laurence Calvert Academy in Middleton was delayed by “ridiculously centralised” Government rules around the opening of new schools.
The DfE has recently agreed to part-fund the building of temporary classrooms on the Middleton Park Depot site to be used from September 2021, until the completion of the permanent school building, which is hoped to be finished at some point during the 2022/23 academic year.
A statement from the DfE claimed a permanent site may not even be open until the start of the 2023/24 academic year, but that it was never its intention to open any earlier.
While the final sign-off has yet to be given by the Government on the permanent school site, Coun Pryor said he hopes the work can be rubber-stamped by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in the “coming days”.
Coun Pryor told a meeting of the council’s decision-making executive board: “The issue now is that the current Laurance Calvert hasn’t yet been signed off by the secretary of state – all the work has been done, but the final sign-off hasn’t happened yet.
“The children of south Leeds are now being offered provisional places at Laurence Calvert, and the moment that will be signed off by the secretary of state – which I am hoping will be in the coming days – then those conditional places become unconditional places.”
Due to legislation passed by David Cameron’s Government in the early 2010s, local councils are no longer allowed to open their own new schools, and must instead either expand existing schools or encourage the building of “free schools”, approved by national Government and run by third parties.
The council came to an agreement with the DfE back in 2017 that the Government should build a new free school in Middleton, but the scheme has been beset by delays.
This led to the council agreeing this week to spend £6.7m building temporary classrooms at the site, which is hoped to eventually be home to the permanent Cockburn Laurence Calvert Academy.
Coun Matthew Robinson (Con) questioned whether the council could have done more to encourage the development of the permanent site sooner.
“This problem has been persisting for some time,” he said. “The allusion is that this is all the Government’s fault and that the council has done everything right in this process.
“It feels like transfer deadline day and finding out that youneed a striker – we always knew this was going to come. Now the report is not able for call-in, which is a concern for me and, I’m sure, many others.”
Coun Pryor responded: “The problem started when when the Government banned local authorities from opening schools. The system instead is that we have to inform Government when we need a new school, which is ridiculously centralised.
“We informed the Government we needed this school five or six years ago. The Government said they recognised this school was needed in south Leeds and said it would be delivered in 2017. We are not looking at that school to be delivered in 2022.
“It’s not my job to come up with excuses for the Government,” he added. “But if you are looking to centralise an entire country’s education system through London, you are creating a lot of work for yourself.
“I suspect that is what is causing delays.”
While the DfE did not comment on how long it would be before the minister gave his final approval, it said the site may not be able to open until September 2023.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are working closely with Leeds City Council and the prospective school community to open the Cockburn Laurence Calvert Academy ahead of schedule in September 2021.
“The school will initially open in temporary accommodation to support this accelerated timeline, while we expect the main school site to open on schedule in September 2023.”
The department also claimed the school was not at any point due to open in 2017 – adding it was formally approved and went into ‘pre-opening’ in 2017, with a provisional opening date for the school of September 2022, and main school site opening date of September 2023. It added that the period from pre-opening to the opening of the main school site reflects the “complex land acquisition and development process of a Leeds City Council site”.
Following the plans to open the temporary site, David Gurney, executive headteacher of the Cockburn Multi-academy Trust – which will run the school – said: “I am delighted with the progress we have made with Cockburn Laurence Calvert Academy to ensure that the community of south Leeds will have a third excellent secondary school to send their children to.”
The temporary building will consist of specialist teaching rooms for technology, art, science alongside spacious classrooms for English, maths and humanities subjects. The trust said it would also make use of the sporting facilities that are already situated on the site.