Free school rejected by DfE is considering future options

Northern Lights Free School approved for site on corner of Francis Street and Hopwood Lane.
Northern Lights Free School approved for site on corner of Francis Street and Hopwood Lane.

The leadership team at a controversial free school are considering their options after the Department for Education (DfE) removed its backing for the proposed school.

The Northern Lights Free School was due to be set up at a site on Francis Street, Halifax, but the plans were referred to DfE by Halifax MP Linda Riordan.

She had called for an investigation into the proposed Northern Lights Primary School after accusations of links with extremism following a letter from the nearby Sunniyy Centre that upset parents.

But after investigating the matter the DfE has confirmed that it would be withdrawing any funding agreement with the school.

A spokesperson for the Northern Lights Educational Trust said: “We are deeply disappointed and very surprised at the decision of the DfE to not proceed with our project. The Northern Lights Educational Trust is devastated for the pupils, parents and staff who will suffer as a result of this decision and our priority lies with helping them.

“The DfE has made it explicitly clear that the investigation carried out by the Department did not find examples of extremism within the group.

“We have always been committed to offering a fully inclusive provision for all, independent of social, religious and cultural heritage. The free school was to be led by a headteacher with over 20 years of successful experience at headship and supported by a full complement of qualified staff in addition to a wide range of suitable professionals with extensive experience in governance.

“The free school was oversubscribed, had successfully completed all major milestones and had received applications from parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds with a potential percentage intake from other faith communities that would be greater than or equivalent to other local schools.

“We are currently considering all possible options that are available to us.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Setting up a free school is not an easy task. The proposers of the Northern Lights Free School have worked hard on their project. However, our priority has to be to open free schools with the best chance of performing strongly from the outset and giving children a first-class education.

“Unfortunately, in this case, we judged that the capacity and capability of the group was not sufficient for the project to proceed.”

Linda Riordan MP said the DfE had made a “sensible decision”.

She said: “It obviously took a lot of thought from the minister, but it’s the right thing to have done.

“There are some excellent mainstream schools across all communities in Halifax and long may that continue to be the case.

“I have never thought free schools are a good idea and this issue has only confirmed my doubts.

“This decision should strengthen educational provision in Halifax and ensure our many fantastic local schools continue to go from strength to strength.”