Proposals for new high school discussed

A consultation is progressing about plans to open a new high school in “City Centre South” – the area between the River Aire and the motorways.

As previously reported, the Leeds Sustainable Development Group (LSDG) have teamed up with Gorse Academies Trust and are proposing the school as a way of kick-starting development of a modern city-living residential area of some 10,000 homes.

The plans were explained to a meeting at The Royal Armouries last Thursday. About 30 people attended to hear that the school was one of six new high schools needed over the next ten years in Leeds, to meet the needs of a growing population. The school, if approved, will have a Maths specialism and plans to open in September 2014. Although planned to be an 11-18 school, the first intake will just be Years 7 and 12 (lower sixth). The school will then gradually grow to 1,500 pupils over five years. Children currently in Year 5 of primary school will form the first intake.

Ben Aspinal from LSDG explained the school would not enjoy purpose built premises, but would probably be located in refurbished existing buildings. He said they had a number of sites in mind, but would not be drawn further. The school, provisionally called the Leeds Academy will not be the only educational institute in the area as Leeds City College are currently redeveloping the Alf Cooke Printworks site on Hunslet Road.

Cllr Elizabeth Nash

The proposers claim they have the backing of Leeds City Council. However no officers or Councillors were present at the meeting and when approached by South Leeds Life, Cllr Elizabeth Nash (City & Hunslet) said:

“(I) do not know anything about it. No one has consulted me.”

The Gorse Academies Trust run Morley Academy and Farnley Academy. They boast an impressive improvement in exam outcomes and are led by John Townsley, a former Best Headteacher in the North of England. Mr Townsley  certainly put the case for the new school forcefully at Thursday’s meeting. This apparently is his style and led to a strike by teachers at Farnley last July (the first strike by Leeds high school teachers since the 1980s), as well as a successful bullying claim brought by a teacher at Morley in 2011.

LSDG and Gorse are proposing that the new school should be a “Free school”. Free schools have been introduced by the Coalition Government and do not have to follow the National Curriculum, but are inspected by Ofsted. They do not have to employ qualified teachers or pay on national pay scales, although Townsley said it was not their intention to use either of these freedoms. All new schools must be either an Academy or a Free School. They had chosen to go down the Free School route because this would be funded by central government rather than the city council.

Concerns were raised in the meeting that a new “excellent” school in South Leeds would pull the best students from existing schools and make it ever harder for those schools to improve.

You can have your say about the proposals by completing the consultation questionnaire on the Morley Academy website’s home page.

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4 Replies to “Proposals for new high school discussed”

  1. Hmm… I am unclear why, if there is a shortage of school places, why existing schools could not expand? Is this because of physical space or political dogma?

    Why does the ‘Leeds Academy’ not want funded routed by local government?

    It is one thing to say it is not intended to use a freedom to employ unqualified teachers it is another thing to commit to not doing so.

    I would question the value of completing the questionnaire referred to in the article as apart from its inadequacy in terms of lack of detail it says: Please can you take the time to complete the short questionnaire and to lend us your support to this exciting and innovative initiative,’ so it is hardly an unbiased effort to obtain views!

    While it is worrying if one long standing local councillor has heard nothing about it perhaps South Leeds Life could write to Cllr Judith Blake, Lead Executive Member Children’s Services and ask what support the Council has promised.

  2. Thanks Steve, it seems there are more questions than answers, but I can tell you that they said using central government funding would be less of a burden to Leeds City Council and implied the Council supported this view.

    Also that we contacted Councillor Blake for a comment, but she hasn’t responded yet.

  3. Cllr Blake has known about this proposal for a year and in the last few months has been actively working towards helping to make it happen.

    All through the three years of working with an (open) group of people in Leeds Sustainable Development Group to bring forward ideas for City Centre South we have tried to engage with councillors, officers, landowners and indeed anyone who might be interested. It hasn’t been easy to publicise the ideas effectively, though there’s obviously been something of a breakthrough of late.

    In response to the fear that the new Academy will draw some pupils away from existing schools: although the Academies project is not beyond reproach, isn’t it about time that SOMEthing happened to improve the quality of schools available in a city of the size and stature of Leeds? The potential of City Centre South is never going to be realised if people who might be willing to consider a city centre location for the longer term cannot see a nearby school that has a strong reputation. Much to debate on this one.

    1. Thanks for you comments Rachael. As you say there is much to debate. What do other readers think?

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