A ‘desperately needed’ new secondary school that was approved by the government three years ago may now never be built. Lakeside Academy, in Littleborough, was one of 22 new free schools across the country to be given the green light back in 2019.
Rochdale council bosses were delighted that the 750-place school - to be run by Star Academies - was seemingly signed off, saying it would reassure worried families and strengthen education in the borough. But earlier this month the DfE said that the school - to be built at Littleborough Playing Fields - had been paused and would not open before 2025.
Now it has confirmed there is no guarantee the school will ever open. A Department for Education spokesperson said: “New free schools such as Star Lakeside Academy are approved where there is a clear need for new places in a local area.
“Rochdale council have provided assurances they are able to manage the need for places for 2023/24, and we will continue to work with the local authority and Star Academies to analyse local demand in Rochdale going forwards.” It comes despite council forecasts showing there will not be enough places in the Pennines next year without a £1.5m extension to Wardle academy - and without the new school in Littleborough rom 2027.
Coun Tom Besford, who represents Littleborough Lakeside, says he is furious about the situation. He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Littleborough desperately needs a new school. We are already sending hundreds of children outside of the area for their secondary school education.
“The council’s own figures show a forecast gap in places of more than 300 over the next five years. I urge the government, specifically Gillian Keegan and Nick Gibb, to reverse their decision and ‘unpause’ this funding.”
He added: “The shambles of the Conservative’s revolving doors approach to positions in government has real world consequences. The endless Tory Party melodrama is harming Littleborough’s community, and the well-being of our children.“
Coun Besford, who sits on the council’s schools scrutiny committee, also called for an end to the ‘free school presumption’ that stops local authorities from setting up their own schools.
“It’s nonsensical that councils are responsible for ensuring children have school places, but are banned from building new schools to meet that need,” he said. “We should devolve these decisions back to local people and away from the Westminster pantomime.”
Rochdale council says it has ‘advocated robustly with both the DfE and regional schools commissioner’ about the need for the school, and will continue to do so.
Star Academies says it is working with the DfE and Rochdale Council ‘to provide a high-quality school in Littleborough as soon as possible’.
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