This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Free school plan by Sikhs is another step nearer reality
Proposals by Sikh leaders to set up a free school have moved a step closer.
The Department for Education has given them approval to progress to the next and final stage following the submission of their business case.
They join another successful bid in the city from a group which is hoping to set up a post-16 school for sporting excellence with support from Leicester Tigers.
Free schools are part of the Government's flagship policy which allows parents, charities and faith groups, among others, to set them up.
They are funded directly by the Government and do not have to follow the national curriculum, but must provide a broad and balanced education.
Indy Panesar, the president of Ramgarhia Sikh Temple, in Meynell Road, off Uppingham Road, Leicester, is one of the nine temple leaders behind the bid.
He said: "This is very positive news and we're cautiously confident."However, we still have a big hurdle to cross."
Sikh leaders now have to attend an interview with free school experts from the Government to discuss their plans.
This is scheduled for May 17, but a final decision is not expected until the summer.
A number of locations are being considered as a potential site for the school, which would take pupils from four to 11 years and be known as Leicester Sikh School.
Among them is Ellesmere College in Braunstone, which is relocating to the former Riverside Community College site in Rowley Fields. Mr Panesar said: "We are still considering sites and no firm decisions have been taken if we are given the go-ahead.
The school's ethos would be based on the Sikh faith, but must offer half of the places to non-Sikh children.
It would serve only vegetarian food and take a reception and year one class with 30 children in each, during its first year, with numbers growing thereafter.
If plans are allowed to progress it should be open in time for September 2013.
Initial set-up costs for the school are paid for by the Government.
Councillor Vi Dempster, the city council spokeswoman for children, young people and schools, said: "I met with Sikh community leaders and I'm pleased to hear they have got through to the next stage.
"They have given their commitment to work with the local authority as part of its family of schools if they're successful.
"Given the rise in the primary school population, this won't affect the stability of any schools in the city."
Free schools were created by the Government to give parents more choice.