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.
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.