London, UK: A new Sikh free school is one step closer to being built in Redbridge after the Department for Education (DfE) approved its application this week.
Atam Academy is scheduled to open in September 2015 at primary school level and secondary school pupils will be welcomed a year later.
The school, for pupils aged 4-18, is expected to reach full capacity – 1,260 students – in 2020.
It will be the third Sikh-designated free school in the capital – the first of its kind in east London.
Mankamal Singh, chairman of the Atam Academy board of governors, said: “It has been a lot of emotion, hard work and commitment in preparing the application.
“We have got the thumbs up from the Department for Education so it is full steam ahead now.”
Sikh pupils at the school will make up 50 per cent of the intake with non-faith groups making up the other half.
Twenty per cent of people who registered an interest in the school by signing a petition are non-Sikh, according to Mr Singh.
Governors are yet to secure a site for the school to be built on.
“We are not ready to disclose which sites we have been looking at,” said Mr Singh.
“The south of Ilford is where the main Sikh community is in the borough but right now we cannot say the school is definitely going to be there.”
He added Atam Academy were looking at both privately owned sites and those owned by Redbridge Council.
Lee Scott MP for Ilford North applauded DfE’s decision.
“I am a believer in faith schools,” said Mr Scott, who sent a letter to DfE supporting Atam Academy’s application.
“There is a need for school places in the borough. I think free schools have an important role to play – their ethos is first class.”
The council is faced with the task of creating 3,540 school places in the next four years.
Redbridge is among the worst-affected boroughs in London, in terms of the demand for school places.
Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, said: “I think any school of any sort will help with the demand.
“The borough will be very grateful we can carry on educating our people.”