You are Here: Home » News » News Headlines » Desperately needed new school in Littleborough will now not open until 2025 as government ‘pauses’ scheme
Date published: 09 November 2022
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It is understood the new school will be built on Littleborough Playing Fields as no alternative site has been found
A much-needed new secondary school which was due to welcome its first pupils next year will now not open until 2025, it has emerged.
The government gave the go-ahead for a new ‘free school’ in Littleborough, Rochdale, back in 2019, as concerns mounted over the area facing a shortfall of more than 130 places.
To be run by Star Academies, the 750-place school – dubbed Star Lakeside Academy – was expected to open at the Littleborough playing fields site next year.
Read more: Two new secondary schools approved by governmentPublished: 17 June 2019
A new council report reveals this has now been ‘paused’ by the Department for Education, which now says the school will not open before 2025.
Councillor Tom Besford, who represents Littleborough Lakeside, says he was ‘staggered’ to find out through council papers, describing the news as ‘disturbing’ and ‘terrifying’.
He said: “This is really shocking, disturbing and deeply worrying for hundreds of parents across Littleborough. We know there has been a shortage of secondary school places in Littleborough, but unfortunately the 2010 Academies Act prevents local authorities from building schools to meet the needs of their residents.”
The government’s ‘free school presumption’ rule also means that, rather than being under local authority control, all new schools are run by sponsors – in this case Star Academies – and funded directly by the DfE.
Councillor Besford fears that 11-year-olds moving up to secondary school will be separated from their friends and peer groups, with anxious youngsters having to travel several miles from home to get their education.
Around 80 children a year already have to travel from Littleborough to schools such as St Cuthbert’s, Kingsway Park and Todmorden High, and Councillor Besford is particularly concerned that the council report appears to suggest pupils could be sent to schools in Oldham.
“This is completely unacceptable and needs the DfE to provide an update,” he said.
The Labour councillor, who also sits on the authority’s schools scrutiny committee, says the news has come as a bombshell to families.
“To find out the secondary school that had been planned will not be open until 2025, that’s terrifying – I have had parents contacting me via email,” he said.
“To hear the DfE has put the brakes on is an absolute travesty. Some parents have seen this coming down the line like a slow-moving avalanche.”
Read more: Rochdale facing pupil places crisis if delayed new free school does not open by 2023Published: 12 November 2020
Nearby Wardle Academy had a building extension to provide 100 additional places for the 2021 and 2022 intakes. It will offer a further 50 places in September next year, with a further classroom extension to the new block to be funded by the DfE.
While Councillor Besford says the school has done a ‘brilliant job’, he believes there has been ‘no joined up thinking’ from the government.
He said: “The council has been lobbying for this school for the best part of 10 years. To find this has been kicked into the long grass is so devastating to the families and communities that are going to be torn apart by this short-sighted and ridiculous decision.”
Councillor Rachel Massey, cabinet member for children’s services and education, said the council was ‘disappointed’ about the delay and was ‘working closely with local schools to ensure sufficient places are available until a resolution can be reached’.
She said: “The council has advocated robustly with both the DfE and Regional Schools Commissioner regarding the need for the school to be delivered and will continue to do so.
“If the new government remains serious about levelling up then essential infrastructure such as schools must be provided for our local residents and families”.
A spokesperson for Star Academies said: “Star Academies is currently working with the Department for Education and Rochdale Borough Council on plans to provide a high-quality school in Littleborough as soon as possible.”
The Department for Education had not provided a statement at the time of writing.
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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