Commons debate on shock closure of Swaminarayan School set to take place

The Swaminarayan School in Neasden.

The Swaminarayan School in Neasden. - Credit: Archant

National politicians will on Wednesday discuss the shock decision by trustees to close Neasden’s Swaminarayan School.

Ahead of the Commons debate, set to take place in Westminster Hall at 11am, MP Virendra Sharma told the Brent & Kilburn Times: “It’s a real loss that no longer will the Hindu community in west London have access to a school with this ethos.

“I think it is disappointing the governors of the school were not able, or willing, to consult broadly on the school’s future. The closure was a decision taken quickly and seemingly with the motive of profit.”

The school told this newspaper last month it had decided to shut from 2019 because of falling income and increased competition. Following a series of heated meetings with parents, it was agreed to delay the closure first to 2020 and then prospectively to 2021.

“A charitable foundation, offering an education with a Hindu ethos should embrace that ethos and continue to offer a space for the Hindu community to gather, educate themselves and to grow as a group.”

MP Keith Vaz, who lives in neighbouring Harrow –which is home to a number of the school’s pupils – said: “The Swaminarayan School is a national centre of excellence. It has produced outstanding results. It has wonderful teachers. It must not close.”

Another meeting between parents and the school’s trustees took place on Tuesday last week. Five parents met two school trustees, two trustees from Neasden Temple – whose operator BAPS owns the school – and a governor.

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The parents were there to present their financial plan in the hope of keeping the school open for another seven years, rather than the two or three already promised. But they came away empty-handed.

“We gained a lot of insight into the structure of the school, the school’s operating trust, connection with Nilkanth estates and BAPS,” said parent Parag Bhargava.

“Our financial plan was reviewed, but has had to be revised due to some points not being taking into consideration such as the return of parent deposits and redundancy payments.”

The trustees said there were no plans to redevelop the site.

Parag added: “We hope can work together to ensure that the maximum number of parents and children can leave the school on a positive note.”

Brent councillor Ketan Sheth, who was among the first to speak out about the closure plans last month, said: “I am pleased that my colleague Virendra Sharma MP has successfully secured a parliamentary debate on this important subject.

“Over the past 25 years, the school, which was founded by HH the Pramukh Swami Maharaj, has become one of most successful small independent schools in the UK and is recognised as such nationally and internationally.

“Therefore, it is quite right that the UK Parliament debates this sudden and shocking announcement to close it without any prior engagement or consultation with the pupils, parents, staff or the community.”

Trustees have said the decision not to consult was taken so as not to worry or destabilise the school community before any firm plans had been made.