New school hope for sports centre?

A public meeting held last week about the creation of a new primary school at the site of the closed South Leeds Sports Centre failed to offer any concrete hope that the sports facilities will be re-opened to the public.

The meeting at Hamara on 12th July gave an opportunity for three providers to outline their plans for the new school, which is due to open in September 2014. They were asked if they would operate the sports centre, or allow a partner to operate it as a joint site. All three were happy, in principle, to see the centre re-opened but said they would need to see a feasibility study completed. No concrete commitments were forthcoming and as we have seen in the past feasibility studies depend on what questions you ask.

The staff from Leeds Children’s Services did confirm that the playing fields – the Rugby pitch and Gaelic Football pitch – will not be built on.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the changes in government education policy, you might be wondering why three providers are bidding to open a school. If a new school is needed – which it is due to local population growth – surely the Council just builds one? Not anymore. Now they have to hold a competition and invite bids from (mostly private) providers. If the Council wants to bid it needs the Secretary of State’s permission (Mr Gove is not a fan of Leeds) and the decision on who gets the school passes to the Secretary of State. It is not a level playing field.

So who are the bidders?

The Academies Enterprise Trust operate 90 primary and secondary academies across the country. Academies operate outside of local authority control and don’t have to stick to the national curriculum, or to national pay structures (although AET does use national pay structures).

The Learning Trust (South Leeds) is a Co-operative Federation of six primary schools in Beeston and Middleton together with Cockburn High School. The schools remain within the local authority and work closely together and with partners from the business world.

Rainbow Schools Trust operate a Free School in Bradford. Free Schools are government funded but are outside local authority control and have wide freedoms over the curriculum, the length of the school day, staff terms and conditions, etc.

Full details of the bids are available here and details of how to comment are available on the Leeds City Council website here. Comments must be received by 20th August and the Council’s Executive Board will decide which provider will operate the new school at their October meeting.