The Swaminarayan School in Brent has decided to extend its notice period before it closes the doors to students, after considering the concerns of parents and students. The school sent a letter to all parents on 25 June 2018, explaining the closure is related to lack of funding, recruitment of right staff and falling number of students. However, they have now decided to keep both schools fully open for another year, until July 2020, giving everyone in the Prep School and Senior School two full years to find suitable places for their children for the academic year beginning in September 2020. If circumstances permit, the trust is also planning to keep the Prep School running for a third year, if feasible, provided there are sufficient pupil numbers.
Jitu Patel, Chairman of Akshar Educational Trust told Asian Voice exclusively, “Over the past few years, student numbers have been falling – from a peak of 515 in 2012 to 377 expected in September 2018. This downward trend is expected to continue. We recognise that the location of the School is not ideal since the catchment area of the majority of its students is some distance away.
“Other non-fee-paying Hindu schools have opened that are more local to students. Whilst we wholeheartedly applaud their success, this has provided an attractive alternative to many of our actual and prospective students.
“The leadership of the School has engaged in strenuous efforts to continue to promote the School to prospective parents and students but, notwithstanding these efforts, the decline in pupil numbers has continued.
“In addition to the fall in student numbers, the School has faced many challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers and staff necessary to maintain high standards.”
He further went on to say, “The trustees are duty-bound to act in a prudent financial manner and, in this respect, have projected future income against expenditure. When the financial situation is examined in detail, it is beyond doubt that a continuation of the School would lead to substantial losses which would, in all likelihood, continue indefinitely. Such a continuation is simply not sustainable in the long term and it would be wrong to give a false hope or promise that it is feasible to continue to run the School in this manner.
“Whilst the flow of losses could have been stemmed had the School closed immediately, or over a relatively short period of time, the trustees do recognise that this would have created significant hardship and difficulties for parents and students alike. So, even though delaying the closure will add to and accelerate the losses, the trustees are committed to keeping the School open for a period of time to enable students to complete, in particular, their GCSE and A-Level courses and to enable other students to secure alternative places elsewhere.
“Whilst certain members of the community expect that BAPS should continue to inject or donate funds into the School, it should be remembered that BAPS has many demands on its own resources in respect of religious and cultural activities, and we reiterate that its principal activities and objectives are religious, whereas the objectives of the School are obviously educational.
“Despite our efforts to secure support from other potential donors, no significant contributions have ever materialised.”
Students and Parents reactions
A Prep School meeting with the parents took place on Tuesday 26th June 2018 and a Senior School meeting followed on Thursday 28th June 2018. However the disgruntled parents, not accepting the closure decision, in a statement told Asian Voice, “Following the two meetings parents are still feeling somewhat left in the dark with some lack of transparency to the causes given leading to the (closure) announcement, such as 'increasing regulatory requirements, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, ready availability of free state-funded Hindu schools, and declining pupil numbers'.”
A Year 10 parent told the newsweekly, “Whilst we, the parents, can see that these issues are of concern, we also feel that these issues exist across the independent school sector, and we feel that there is ample talent and a variety of skills across the parents of the school that can be put forward to help stop the announced closure.
“The parents and students of the school have always felt as one family with the teachers and each other, and the school is renowned for its excellent results year on year.”
Vimal P. (a year 13 student), who recently completed his A Levels, spoke about how the school has given him confidence to speak about his faith and religion, and how the school differs from others schools because this school makes the best students.
The parent body strongly feels that by working together, the school can still continue, but for this to happen, the trustees and governors need to start an open dialogue with parents, which has not been happening over the years. Parents have also said that they are more than happy to consider taking over the running of the school by appointing new teams who will give due consideration to the communities and families that are being disrupted by this announcement, but ideally prefer working with the existing trustees and governors to resolve the concerns.
The parent body has written to the two boards requesting an urgent response and update following the meetings last week, to assess what steps are then needed (if any) to take the matter forward to achieve an outcome that works for all parties concerned.
Seema Malhotra MP also shares the views of the parents and stated, "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 discussions between parents, teachers, Governors and Trustees that a solution can be found and the school is able to stay open and continue to flourish."
The parents have now started a campaign online which supporters can sign at https://bit.ly/2N7esUN which has attracted over 3000 signatures as we go to press.
Addressing the emotions of the parents and students, Jitu Patel added, “We do recognise that emotions have been running high as the parents have had to face this difficult situation. We sincerely regret the sadness that this has caused to pupils, parents and staff alike.
“It is disappointing to note that allegations of serious impropriety and personal benefit have been made against the trustees. These allegations are unjustified, devoid of merit and defamatory. The trustees and governors, like many others, have for several years provided their services, input, time and expertise without charge and without any personal benefit whatsoever.
“We sincerely hope and humbly request that the parents, teachers, students and the community at large will understand the reasons for the decisions we are taking, act at all times in a calm and moderate way, and will support us to achieve an orderly winding down.
“No one has put more into the School over the last quarter of a century than those who have selflessly stood by it through its many trials and tribulations, celebrating its successes along the way too. No one is more saddened than those who have had to make this difficult decision. Let us remember The Swaminarayan School for the thousands of successful students it has nurtured over the years.”
Over 25 years ago, with the blessings of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Akshar Educational Trust was established as an educational charity, separate to Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) which is a religious charity. With funding provided by BAPS, the school building was acquired in 1990.