THE founder of a charity that works with Hinchingbrooke School to build schools in Africa has reacted angrily to the decision to axe the decade-long relationship.

Caroline Hansford set up Malawi Education Link in 1997 and has been working with Hinchingbrooke since 2003.

However, despite its popularity and success in raising more than £300,000, the new head of Hinchingbrooke, Andrew Goulding, has decided to sever ties with MEL in favour of supporting a project in Sierra Leone.

Ms Hansford told The Hunts Post: "When this news broke, things went mad. The new head decided, with absolutely no warning, that the connection was severed. I warned him there would be a big backlash, and there has been.

"This has come out of the blue and parents are cross."

She said a number of families chose to send their children to Hinchingbrooke School specifically so that they could take part in MEL - and that working in Africa had influenced many teenagers' choice of university course and career.

"We take on average 40 children a year to Malawi. Over 10 years that is a massive impact," she said.

She hopes that MEL can continue in another Cambridgeshire school but said: "I have a lot of parents who are desperate for MEL to stay in Hinchingbrooke. There is no shortage of places to take it but MEL has become part of the tradition of Hinchingbrooke. This is tragic."

Hundreds of Year 11 pupils have travelled to Malawi to build and rebuild schools, become involved in the local communities, forge links and friendships with local people in this impoverished southern African country.

Ms Hansford described MEL as a "very small" registered charity.

"It has always needed the legal and insurance cover provided by the LEA, in order to take school teams out to Malawi," she said. "It has always operated to LEA rules and regulations and it has an exemplary record for safety and satisfaction, with many past team members continuing to support MEL through regular donations or returning as junior leaders for future teams.

"Pupils and parents have been devastated by this news, signing petitions, writing letters, sending emails, making personal pleas - all of which have fallen on deaf ears: Mr Goulding is determined, it seems, to replace a treasured and trusted part of Hinchingbrooke School's traditions with a little known programme connected with Sierra Leone."

Mr Goulding was unavailable to talk to The Hunts Post but in a letter to parents, he said: "We are developing a new and exciting opportunity to work with a community in Sierra Leone. This promises to provide some wonderful opportunities to develop an international link with a two-way flavour."

He continued: "I am aware that there are many in the community who have enjoyed a similar relationship with Malawi over the years through the charity MEL. This has not only provided many wonderful experiences for our students, but has also benefitted the Malawi community enormously…

"However, for Hinchingbrooke School, we are now looking to our new international venture and I am sure that future generations of staff and students will gain similar experiences and develop similar passions for this work."