A FEE-paying Islamic school in Kirklees is set to apply to become a ‘free school’.
Following overwhelming support from parents and the local community, governors at the £1,000-a-year independent Paradise Primary School, at Bretton Street, in Dewsbury have decided to try and convert.
If successful, the school would more than double in size and parents would no longer pay fees. Instead, pupils would be funded by the Department for Education at the national state rate of around £3,500 per child per year.
Since Paradise opened in 1998 the school has established a name for providing quality education alongside Islamic values and etiquettes. Pupils already travel from Huddersfield, Bradford and Leeds to attend.
Governors will submit their proposal for a 400-place primary school during the first week of January.
They expect to hear in mid-2013 and, if approved, the new school would open in September 2014 as the biggest Muslim school in the area.
The co-ed school, which currently educates 170 primary-aged children, is working with Kirklees and is in discussions with the council for bigger premises.
Potential sites include Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court and Birkdale High School buildings. The current Paradise nursery school would be run separately by Kirklees Council.
The governors believe that a free school would attract investment and provide a boost to the local economy. They also claim it would offer parents a greater choice, increase diversity and raise standards.
Governor Najam Sheikh said: “There is massive evidence of demand for a free school. Children currently travel from all over West Yorkshire to attend Paradise Primary School.
“We want to take the school to the next level and at the moment there are a lot of financial constraints.
“On funding, we are working on less than a third of what each pupil in the state sector receives. The majority of our staff are unqualified and working for just above the minimum wage.
“But they are already delivering. Ofsted rated us as good with outstanding features. Imagine what we could do with the full funding.
“We want to employ qualified staff all the way from the top to the bottom and enhance the education for our children. The only way is up.”
The application has the backing of all three Dewsbury South councillors. Clr Masood Ahmed, Labour, said: “Paradise Primary School has consistently shown Key Stage 2 results which are better than the local and national average.
“I have pleasure in endorsing its free school application and endorse the prolific work the governing body has done throughout the last 13 successful years.”
Simon Reevell, MP for Dewsbury, also pledged his support in principle during a visit to the school last week.
Parent governor Abdul Patel added: “Despite limited resources, the levels attained by our pupils have consistently been above average.
“Our vision is to become a centre of excellence for learning; creating a positive and lifelong impact on student attainment.”
The first free schools opened in England in September 2011. They are funded by taxpayers, academically non-selective and free to attend. They are controlled by the Department for Education, not local authority.
Free schools are an extension of the government’s existing Academies Programme and also allow parents, business groups, religious groups, charities and other parties to open their own schools.
The latest (interim) Ofsted report, dated August 2011, rated Paradise Primary School as good with outstanding features.
The areas rated as outstanding were pupils’ behaviour and welfare, as well as their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
The report stated: “The school meets its aims by providing a good quality of education in a safe and friendly environment which enables its pupils to make good progress.
“The quality of teaching and assessment is good. Most teaching is good and some lessons are outstanding”.