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Trust in charge of inadequate Sikh school stripped of funding

Baroness Berridge advised that the Trust’s funding agreement should be terminated (photo by Chris McAndrew )

A Sikh academy trust stripped of Government funding for one of its schools is hoping to open another Sikh school through the latest round of free schools. Last week, Khalsa Academies Trust received a termination notice from the Department for Education recommending that the Government withdraw all funding for Khalsa Secondary Academy in Stoke Poges, outside Slough, and that the school be transferred to another sponsor. The school only opened seven years ago and faced strong opposition at the time.

The Trust – which is already responsible for three schools in addition to the Khalsa Secondary Academy – has recently applied to open another school, Khalsa Academy Sandwell, via the latest wave of applications for free schools. Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for a school system that is suitable for pupils from all religion or belief backgrounds, has expressed alarm at the application and is urging the DfE to reject it.

The termination notice is just the latest in a litany of controversies relating to Khalsa Secondary Academy dating back to before it opened, in spite of serious local opposition, in 2013. This includes a lack of demand for Sikh school places meaning numerous families who had not chosen a Sikh faith school being allocated places there.

In December, Khalsa Secondary Academy received a damning Ofsted report highlighting serious issues with safeguarding, a lack of adequate support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and an overly narrow curriculum. Prior to the termination notice, the Trust wrote to the DfE outlining how it intended to improve the school, but, according to the notice letter from Baroness Berridge, the Regional Schools Commissioner reported that these representations failed to ‘demonstrate that trustees had a robust understanding of the role and responsibilities of the central leadership team, in particular the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in an education trust.’ The letter went on to say that the Trust’s oversight of safeguarding was inadequate and there was insufficient detail in the plans to improve SEND provision or teaching and learning more generally.

Baroness Berridge’s letter also rejected a claim, apparently made by Trust representatives, that the Regional Schools Commissioner had ‘allowed any coordinated correspondence from religious groups to influence her recommendation’ to withdraw funding to the Trust. Her view is supported by the Khalsa Secondary Academy Parents’ Group who wrote to the Slough and South Bucks Observer to support the DfE’s decision and accused the Trust of falsely suggesting the decision was an attack on the Sikh community. In fact, Baroness Berridge’s letter expresses the Department’s ‘strong preference’ for a trust ‘that will respect the Sikh ethos of the school’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham said: ‘The withdrawal of funding from the Khalsa Academy Trust is just the latest in a long line of problems that have plagued the Khalsa Secondary Academy. With this in mind, the Government must immediately reject this Trust’s application to open another school and look closely at whether it has the ability to continue to manage its existing ones.

‘While it is good to hear that the Department intends to transfer the Khalsa Secondary Academy to a better performing education trust, it is nevertheless disappointing that it expresses a “strong preference” for one that will preserve the Sikh ethos of the school. Over the years, this has acted as a barrier to local families being able to secure a suitable school place for their children. For this reason, now would be a good time for the Government to remove this divisive faith ethos and ensure that the school is open and welcoming to all pupils regardless of background.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read our latest article on 19 new religious schools proposed in latest free school applications.

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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