Approval risks over-capacity after 2023/24
Applications to set up eight secondary/all-through free schools in Leicester have been received, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced.
If all eight open, it would bring the number of free secondary schools in Leicester to eleven. Avanti Fields, an all-through school with a Hindu ethos, opened this September on a temporary site. Castle Mead Academy and Leicester Metropolitan Academy are in the pipeline.
In November 2016, Leicester City Council identified a need for a ‘whole new secondary school’ with capacity for 1000 to 1,200 pupils to be built every year from 2018 to 2021. One, Avanti Fields, has opened; Castle Mead plans to open in 2019 and Leicester Metropolitan hopes to open in August 2021.
Although fourteen of Leicester’s existing secondary schools are full, even over-capacity, four schoolshave 1000 surplus places between them. The unfilled places together with one new secondary school would surely be enough to satisfy the need for extra secondary school places in Leicester by 2021.
But the DfE has received applications for eight schools with secondary provision. This risks a future over-capacity of secondary places.
In 2015, Leicester council told the Office of the Schools Adjudicator the number of Reception age pupils in Leicester was projected to peak in 2016/17. This bulge will reach year 7 in 2023/24. After that time, numbers would fall if the projections are correct.
It appears, then, there’s an urgent need for secondary places in Leicester up to 2023/24. Then the need for places will drop.
But if the eight applications are approved instead of the one that's needed, existing schools could be at risk.
Five, possibly six, will be faith based
Five of the proposed schools are faith-based: one Hindu, two Sikh and two Muslim. One, Avanti Green, is designated as no faith but iits name suggests it would be run by the Avanti trust which operates existing Hindu schools in London and Leicester.
Leicester has a reputation of being ‘a city of diversity’. If all eight are approved, there’s a danger of increased segregation which could put Leicester’s harmony at risk. The DfE should bear this in mind before rubber-stamping applications. Unfortunately, the desire to open free schools and boast about their increasing number suggests the DfE will put possible negative effects to one side.
NOTES: The eight applications are:
Avanti Green, all-through, no faith designation
Avanti Leicester, all-through, designated Hindu
Beauchamp City Free School, secondary, no faith designation
Brook Mead Academy, secondary, no faith designation
Falcons Academy, secondary, designated Sikhism
The Khalsa Academy, secondary, designated Sikhism
Tree Academy Boys, secondary, designated Islam
Tree Academy Girls, secondary, designated Islam