Free school plan is given government backing

St Neots

St Neots - Credit: Archant

Plans to open a new secondary school in St Neots have been approved by the Department for Education (DfE), and the new facility is set to welcome its first pupils in September, 2018.

The proposal to open the St Neots Academy, under the government’s Free School Programme, is being driven by the team behind the Bedford Free School, which opened six years ago.

Mark Lehain, who is the principal of Bedford Free School and heading the St Neots project, met with the DfE at the start of the year and received confirmation last week that the project had been given the go-ahead.

He told The Hunts Post, the application had shown there was sufficient demand in the town for a new secondary school, but admitted he was unable, at this stage, to confirm details about where the school would be located.

“This is a huge step forward and although we are delighted, all the really hard work starts here,” he said.

He added: “The process for new schools is rigorous and the DfE would not have approved the application if they were not confident of finding a suitable site. Originally we had some thoughts that the school could be based in the eastern part of St Neots, but the DfE has its own department that deals with sites for new schools so we will leave it to them and not get fixated on where it should be.”

Mr Lehain confirmed the school would cater for 600 pupils, aged from 11-16, and while he and his team recognised the hard work and successes of the existing two St Neots’s secondary schools, he said he felt the new academy would offer a different learning experience.

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He said: “Our aim is to provide a centre of educational and personal excellence with a rigorous academic curriculum and strict discipline, providing parents with an excellent opportunity for their children. We believe the new school will be massively beneficial to the town and provide more choice.”

Rick Carroll, chief executive officer for the St Neots Learning Partnership which includes Longsands and Ernulf secondary schools, has told The Hunts Post previously that he and his team would “continue to focus on our priori-ties to provide the best education for pupils in St Neots”. He has also said he believes both schools have enough capacity to cope with future housing expansion in the town.