Swaminarayan School closure: Neasden’s private Hindu school makes shock announcement it will shut from July 2019

The Swaminarayan School in Neasden.

The Swaminarayan School in Neasden. - Credit: Archant

One of Brent’s top-performing schools, the Swaminarayan School in Neasden, tonight made the shock announcement it would shut within two years.

One of Brent’s top-performing schools, the Swaminarayan School in Neasden, on Monday night made the shock announcement it would shut within two years.

The move has already angered a senior Labour councillor, who called it “a smack in the face of the founder of the school” and criticised an alleged lack of consultation with parents and the community.

In a letter to parents, a spokesman for the £4,310-a-term Hindu school blamed “increasing regulatory requirements, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, ready availability of free state-funded Hindu schools, and declining pupil numbers” for the move.

It has been open since 1992 in Brentfield Road, in the shadow of Neasden Temple, officially known as BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. BAPS is also the ultimate owner of the school site. The Swiminarayan School caters for about 370 students between the ages of three and 18.

Writing to parents, Jitu Patel – chairman of the Ashkar Educational Trust, which runs the school – said it was “with a heavy heart and profound regret” that the trust had decided to shut the school in stages, beginning in September.

Year 11 and 13 students beginning GCSE and A-level studies that month will be allowed to continue up until their final exams in July 2020. But everyone else – from the ages of three upwards – will have to find a different school from September 2019.

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It comes after the Avanti Trust – a provider of Hindu state schools – was given the green light from government chiefs to open a school in the borough.

It has yet to find a suitable site but hopes to be open by the time the Swaminarayan School closes.

There is no guarantee students from the Swaminarayan School will get places at that facility, though they’ll be eligible to apply.

The future of the school site is still unclear. Governor Tarun Patel told this newspaper: “We’ve still got two more years of education at the school so at the moment that’s where the focus is.

“What’s going to happen to the site after two years, that’s not something we’re looking to evaluate today.”

Cllr Ketan Sheth (Lab, Tokyngton), who chairs Brent Council’s community and wellbeing scrutiny committee, told the Times: “I am hugely disappointed that by this utterly shocking news – disappointed that the trustees have taking this utterly rash decision without any consultation with the pupils, parents of the community.

“This shocking and sudden decision will undoubtedly have a huge adverse implication on the pupils, parents and the community of Brent and beyond.

“This is a smack in the face of the founder of the school, HH The Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and his powerful vision.

“I urge the trustees to work with me and others to review their decision urgently to ensure the pupils’ education is not compromised.”

But Tarun Patel said it would have been “irresponsible” to worry parents and staff with a consultation before a decision had been made: “If you put everything gin the public domain, things can become a total mess. I think it would impact on the education of the children.”

He added the school would incur substantial costs by staying open for another year, but that it was the right thing to do.

“A lot of independent schools in Britain close with a very short announcement,” he added. “The trustees didn’t want that to happen to our children.

“We didn’t want to get to a stage where we were going to be bankrupt and then make an anouncement of closure [at short notice]. That’s not morally right.”

The school’s financial struggle was laid bare last year when, after rumours the sixth form could be at risk, it slashed scholarships to a maximum of 40 per cent.

Nilesh Manani, head of the senior school, said in a statement a few hours after the letter went out: “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.”

Prep school head Umesh Raja added: “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.”