Leaders clash over Liverpool Council’s role in school delay

Political leaders have criticised the Department for Education for delays to a new school in Wavertree but clashed over Liverpool Council’s role in the setback.

It was announced last week that despite planning to welcome students this September, King’s Leadership Academy in Wavertree will push back its opening to 2025. The school’s principal says this is due to delays in securing planning permission to convert its site in Wavertree Technology Park into a school.

During a debate on BBC Radio Merseyside, leading councillors have placed the blame at the door of officials in Whitehall but disagreed on the culpability of the city council.

King’s Leadership Academy Wavertree planned to open in September 2024 as a non-selective free independent secondary school. It is set to be the fifth of the Great Schools Trust’s academies, joining those already established in Dingle, Bootle, Warrington and Bolton.

The school plans to offer 180 year 7 places initially and said it would be “founded on international research and traditional values, focusing on leadership and academic development.” A planning application for the site was received by Liverpool Council on 1 February, with no date determined as to when it will be considered.

Speaking this morning, Cllr Carl Cashman, leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats, said city officials had to take their share of the blame for the situation. He said, “In this particular situation, it’s particularly upsetting because a lot of the Muslim community from the south of Liverpool have seen this as a bit of a lifeline for children, with some of them having to send their children to Fazakerley in the north of the city miles away from their actual home.

“The Department for Education has a lot to answer for but the council has got things wrong in the process.”

Cllr Nick Small, cabinet member for growth and economy, said the issue lay with policy set by the government. He said, “What we’ve seen here, the planning permission was the responsibility of the Department for Education, they didn’t get the planning application in until January.

There are some issues with the site, it’s on a site that’s earmarked for employment use. I support the school but it needs to go through that process.”

Cllr Cashman also criticised the cabinet member for not apologising to families at the heart of the issue. Cllr Small said, “It isn’t going to be much comfort, my heart goes out to the parents and the carers and all the families affected by this, it’s an absolutely appalling position that they find themselves in, but the responsibility lies with the Department for Education and what we need to being doing as a city, everyone needs to be working together to try to ensure that we get the best possible education for those children affected, indeed for all children in this city.”

Paula Barker, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said she had written to Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss “how we can work together to remove the barriers to opening” the school this Autumn.

In a statement, Benjamin Barker, principal of the King’s Leadership Academy Wavertree, said, “We have been working towards opening our new free school in Wavertree. Due to unforeseen delays in securing the planning permissions to convert the site into a school, the Department for Education (DfE) has been unable to complete the funding agreement for King’s Wavertree, so it has taken the decision to delay our planned opening until September 2025.

“This removes any uncertainty for parents and children who received a firm offer at another school on National Offer Day.”

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