'Education is not a business, it's a moral right,' say Swaminarayan School's angry parents
PUBLISHED: 14:37 03 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:12 04 July 2018
Bosses at the Swaminarayan School in Neasden have bowed to mounting pressure from parents furious about its closure and agreed to keep it open for an extra year.
But parents and supporters of the private Hindu school in Brentfield Road say it isn’t enough and want the timetable extended by another five years.
More than 3,000 supporters so far have signed a petition asking trustees and governors to keep it open.
Governor Tarun Patel told the Times: “We had a review after meeting the parents and came to the conclusion that we will keep both schools open until July 2020.
“This will be welcome news for parents in years 4, 5 and 6 as it will allow students to complete their prep-school education.
“If it’s feasible and circumstances allow, we will look to keep the prep school open for a further year until 2021.”
Following the initial announcement on Monday last week that both schools will close in July 2019 for all but years 11 and 13, who will stay on until July 2020, parents have come together to challenge the decision.
“It’s been a great shock to every single parent,” says Parag Bhargava, one of the parents behind the petition. “There was no prior consultation.
“Education is not a business – it’s a moral right. It’s something everybody is entitled to so if people are prepared to pay for it, then give them that right.”
A heated meeting about the closure of the prep school took place on Tuesday last week, followed two days later by a senior school meeting. Angry parents were caught on video pushing and shoving a school trustee as the prep school panel drew to a close.
Mr Patel insisted the two-hour panel was largely peaceful and that parents were simply “releasing emotion”.
“When news like this is announced, people are going to be slightly emotional,” he said. “People have different ways of releasing that emotion and that’s perfectly understandable.”
Asked about the man who was caught in the middle of the scrum, he said: “It was the chair of the board of trustees. He was trying to leave the hall and it was just a little bit of resistance from some of the parents.”
Parents say they still feel left in the dark about why the school, which has about 400 pupils, is planning to shut. Although fees can set parents back £4,310 a term, the school says it has been struggling financially and its leaders told parents in a letter it could no longer afford to stay open. The school also blamed “increasing regulatory requirements, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, ready availability of free state-funded Hindu schools and declining pupil numbers”.
Concerned parents have formed a committee and held a meeting on Friday. They have put together a financial plan showing how the school can stay open for another seven years. “We’ve seen the figures – we can make it work,” said Parag. “We’re asking for seven years so that our children can complete their education and leave on a positive note.”
Another proposal is to move the school to a different location or to up the fees. “The Hindu community is a rich community,” added Parag. “We can put our fingers in our pockets.”
The parents’ petition states: “This [announcement] has caused a great deal of alarm and distress for the children and even more so for the pupils taking exams.
“There are many hard-working families who have moved, relocated and changed their way of life to enable their children to get an excellent education, ethos and culture of Hinduism.”
The campaigning parents are due to meet the school governors and the trustees on Wednesday evening to present their proposals. “We want to work with the governors and trustees to make this happen,” says Parag. “We’re a big family and we just want to give our children a chance.
“The school has an exceptional history and exceptional results. We are Asian-British and have an identity of our own. It’s difficult as parents to instil this in our children. It’s crucial for our children to know what their roots are.”
Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston, who is a supporter of the school, said: “I was surprised and saddened to hear this news.
“The Swaminarayan School has a strong reputation and has been highly valued by parents and the community.
“I hope that through discussion between parents, teachers, governors and trustees that a solution can be found and the school is able to stay open and continue to flourish.”