The Ashkar Education Trust (AET), the charity behind the fee-paying independent Swaminarayan School in Brentfield Road, Neasden, has given parents one year's notice to find a new school for their children, following the announcement that it is to 'exit the education sector.'
The Swaminarayan is on the site of the former Sladebrook High School and next door to the Leopold Primary School Annex. It has provided all-though education for mainly Hindu pupils for 25 years. AET blamed increased regulatory requirements, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, the ready availability of state-funded Hindu schools and declining pupil numbers as significant challenges that have affected their ability to invest in the necessary improvements, educational and infrastructural, needed to sustain the school.
In 2012 Swaminarayan announced that they were looking into becoming a Free School and were looking for a site 'in the heart of the Hindu community' but this was not pursued. LINK
The AET accounts show an income of £4.35m and spending of £4.27m in the year to August 2016 and £4.48m and £4.24m respectively in August 2015. LINK
AET disclose that they have had discussions with the Avanti Trust which runs state-funded Hindu faith schools. Avanti, having been granted permission and funding by the Department for Education to run an all-through school in Brent, has been seeking a site - always a problem in land-hungry Brent.
If the DfE can be persuaded to provide the money to buy or lease the Swaminarayan site for Avanti a smooth transition may be possible although Avanti may not have the same close relationship with the Swaminarayan Mandir as the school currently enjoys. If Avanti is successful in its bid parents would be able to apply for a state-funded place there, and subject to meeting the admissions criteria, save on the current fees.
If the Avanti Admissions Criteria give priority to families who live in Brent this may not be easy but Swaminarayan apart from charging fees (although some bursaries ar available) also selects by ability and special needs children do not appear to be welcome. This is from their website:
Parents/guardians may apply for their child’s entry to The Swaminarayan Preparatory School by filling in an application form and paying £100 registration fee (non-refundable), together with a copy of the birth certificate, passport and the last school report.
In order to qualify for entry, a child must reach a certain academic standard in the Preparatory School entrance examinations in English and Mathematics. Pupils may also be asked to do other examinations such as Cognitive Ability tests. He/she will have to pass an oral and written examination.
Although Kindergarten or Nursery children are not tested academically, an informal interview is assessment is arranged with the Head of Foundation Stage. Age appropriate assessments of the child’s ability to speak, listen to instructions, solve simple puzzles, social skills and hand-eye co-ordinations are carried out.
Key Stage 2 children normally spend the whole day in school and lunch will be provided. During the day they complete the examinations and also have an opportunity to get to know the school. The decision to accept a child lies with the Headteacher of the Prep School.
A child may not be accepted in the school if in the opinion of the Headteacher the School cannot provide adequately for the child’s emotional, physical, medical or educational needs.
With Open Admisisons (non-selective) in the Avanti School it may not be attractive (acceptable?) to some of the present Swaminarayan parents.
AET told parents:
The whole of the Prep School and Senior School will continue as normal from September 2018 until closure in July 2019. This applies to all pupils, except those commencing GCSEs or A-levels in September 2018 (i.e. entering Year 11 or Year 13 in September 2019) who will all be able to complete their GCSEs and A-levels at the School until July 2020. As these plans require a change in our age range, we are in the process of liaising with the Secretary of State for Education to amend our registration details.
Jitu Patel, Chair of AET said:With the staff for the academic year 2018/2019 currently in place, parents should feel confident that the School remains committed to maintaining the high standards of education until full closure.
It is indeed very sad, particularly for our pupils, staff and parents. We explored several options before arriving at this difficult decision. We have given all parents one year’s notice to find an alternative school as well as a commitment to our staff that their employment is secure for the academic year 2018/19.
Nilesh Manani, Head of the Senior School since it opened, said:
The children and staff are some of the very best I have had the privilege of supporting and we will strive to ensure that our education standards are maintained until the very end.
Umesh Raja, Head of the Prep School, said:
The school's Summer Fair which was due to be held at the weekend has been cancelled.It is very sad, but the most important thing now is for everyone to work together over the next two years, especially for the pupils remaining at our school.