Plans to open a new secondary school in St Neots have taken another step forward.

The Bedford Free School, the team behind the project, announced its proposals in September in the wake of Government plans to bring back grammar schools, a move which will allow schools to select pupils on the basis of academic ability.

Mark Lehain, principal of Bedford Free School, told The Hunts Post: “Having submitted our application back in September, we have now heard from the Department for Education (DfE) that we have been successful in getting through to the next stage of the process, and are being called to an interview in London next month.”

Mr Lehain and his team will be asked to present details of their plans, including how they will staff the school and what financial arrangements are in place to make the establishment successful.

Mr Lehain said he had received inquiries from about 275 families - which equates to roughly 450 prospective pupils and represents children who currently attend all the primary schools in St Neots - in the last few months and was delighted to be entering the next stage of the process.

He added: “This is very exciting news - and also a big relief, not least because we have had so many families register their support for the project.”

Once the interview has been completed, the DfE will write to Mr Lehain with its decision, expected to be in March, and if everything goes to plan, the school could open in September 2018.

A site has not yet been identified, but a DfE site team will step in to offer assistance, if the project is given the go ahead.

Mr Lehain has told The Hunts Post previously that while he and his team recognised the hard work and successes of the existing two St Neots' secondary schools, there were “compelling reasons” why the town needed a new educational facility for 11-16 year olds.

“We have decided to propose this new school because we believe that it will massively benefit the town.

We feel that if children in St Neots are ever going to match, or do better than their peers elsewhere, some-thing significant needs to change.

We are confident that the St Neots Academy could be a big part of this change.”

Rick Carroll, chief executive officer for the St Neots Learning Partnership which includes Longsands and Ernulf secondary schools, has said he will “continue

to focus his priorities on providing the best education for pupils in St Neots”.