Today I want to talk about CAPA College, an outstanding school in Wakefield but one that sadly will not be able to take lower-sixth students in September and whose future hangs in the balance after Ministers attempted to move the college to Leeds. What a sorry, sad tale this is.
CAPA College has been the sixth-form provision at Cathedral Academy, a Church of England secondary school in Wakefield, for the past 10 years. It is the only sixth-form in the city of Wakefield. It delivers 28 hours a week of specialist performing arts teaching, and it is unique in West Yorkshire and, dare I say it, in the whole of the north of England, for the standard of performing arts teaching it provides. I pay tribute to my constituent Claire Nicholson, CAPA’s director, and the brilliant, sublime production of “West Side Story” by 16-year-olds which I had the privilege of watching a couple of weeks ago. It was the most wonderful performance of that show that I have ever seen.
In September 2015, CAPA College and its sponsor, the Leeds diocese, through the Enhance Academy Trust, received permission from the Minister to open as a free school. A year later, the Department for Communities and Local Government made a conditional agreement for the sale and purchase of a site in Leeds city centre, and the Education Funding Agency agreed to provide two years’ interim funding to allow CAPA College to stay in Wakefield until the site in Leeds obtained the necessary planning permissions—the new free school could open in September 2018. However, documents that I obtained from Leeds City Council show that, after the planning application was submitted, it emerged that the building is on the route of HS2. Leeds City Council rejected the planning application because of concerns about road safety and congestion; it is not a suitable site for a school. We are talking about the former home of KPMG in Leeds. KPMG obviously got out; it sold it on to a German consortium. That consortium realised that it had perhaps bought a pup and sought to sell it on to someone else—and who better than the UK Government to know what the UK Government are doing!
The Education Funding Agency has rescinded its two-year funding offer to my local school until CAPA College has found a new building. That has forced the trust to inform potential new students that places will not be available to them; in effect, there is no year 12 student admission to CAPA college this year because of this building fiasco. The college has had to issue redundancy notices to staff, whose employment will end on 31 August. I know that the trust is working with Wakefield Council and the EFA to find a new permanent home for CAPA in Wakefield; we made it, we grew it, we developed it and we want to keep it. But why did the EFA continue with a planning application after being told that the site would have a high-speed rail line through it by 2032? Is this seriously a good use of taxpayers’ money? Why was another site for CAPA College not identified as soon as it was known that there was a problem with this one? How much has the EFA spent on this site? Has the EFA completed the sale, even though HS2 will run through it and Leeds City Council has refused the planning application? If so, how much has it paid, or has it pulled out of the contract—in which case, how much has it lost?
I wrote to the Education Secretary in March to seek answers to those questions, but I have not received a reply. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take my concerns back. The announcement this week of extra funding for England’s schools is based on the fact that money that will be taken from the budget for new free schools, so there may be less money to enable CAPA College to find its new home in Wakefield. The fiasco has left CAPA College on the brink of closure, and dozens of dedicated staff and students unsure about their future. I have received letters from distraught students, alumni, parents and grandparents. The closure of CAPA College would damage the life chances of young people in Wakefield who aspire to go into the arts and would mean the closure of the only sixth form in Wakefield city centre.
The alumni have the chance to go on to perform in west end shows and tour all over the world, and I do not want to see the dreams of young people in Wakefield turned to dust. This September, we will see the opening of the advanced innovation and skills centre in Wakefield to deal with the historically low levels of tertiary education—higher education—in the city. We do not want to see one door opening in Wakefield while another one closes. I would like a substantive reply from the Minister and firm action from the EFA, so that those excellent teachers and that outstanding provision can be kept.
I pay tribute to the headteachers of the four secondary schools in my constituency: Miriam Oakley at Horbury Academy; Alan Warboys at Ossett Academy; Elizabeth Ford at Wakefield City Academy; and Rob Marsh at Cathedral Academy. I also pay tribute to Clare Kelly, whose Dane Royd Junior and Infant School I visited recently. I wish all GCSE and A-level students good luck with their results when they come out in August.
I conclude by congratulating Simon Wallis, the director of the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, which was crowned Art Fund museum of the year 2017. I think Wakefield is the only city to have had two Art Fund museums of the year—we also received the honour in 2013 for Yorkshire sculpture park, run by Pete Murray. Should Channel 4 consider a move to west Yorkshire, Wakefield stands ready with open arms to give it a warm, performance-related welcome. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the staff and, in particular, the builders who are beginning to put up the scaffolding on the Elizabeth tower, a safe and productive recess.