Moves underway to secure new secondary school in Houghton Regis

Cllr Susan Clark (front row, centre) addresses the executive committee
Cllr Susan Clark (front row, centre) addresses the executive committee

Moves are underway to secure backers for a new 1,500-place secondary school at Houghton Regis.

The threat of closure at Houghton Regis Academy has triggered a process to build the new premises on the Kingsland Campus.

Central Bedfordshire Council is spending £8.2m on the project, subject to planning permission.

But the new academy will be mainly funded by local development payments, a council executive meeting heard last Tuesday.

“It has long been our intention to build a new secondary school to serve Houghton Regis and the Linmere extention,” said councillor Sue Clark, portfolio holder for families and education.

“This growth will start coming forward very quickly and means a secondary school will be needed from September 2022.

“A feasibility study is being done for the leisure and education offer on the Kingsland site, and the priority is to identify a new site for the school.

“There are significant Section 106 development contributions available, and it would require an extra sum of £8.2m from this council."

Councillor Clark then referred to the proposed closure of Houghton Regis Academy.

She said: “I am extremely sorry the Greenwood Academies Trust wishes to close Houghton Regis Academy, and for the uncertainty, upset and distress this causes the families, the staff and the stakeholders associated with the school.

“It’s very frustrating for us too because it is outside our control."

UKIP Tithe Farm councillor Pat Hamill said: “Today is the day this committee can approve the long-awaited new build, putting education on a stronger footing in our town.

“We as a council should keep this academy open until the new build is complete.”

Liberal Democrat Houghton Hall councillor Susan Goodchild said: “I find it quite painful. It has been a very difficult period indeed for local members and the wider community.

“Where we are today I believe there is hope for our community.

“In 2017/18, there were 299 pupils, so being a small school you can appreciate how difficult it has been to resource it.”

Councillor Clark replied: “You make an empassioned plea for your residents, as well as councillor Hamill, as did councillor Ryan yesterday.

“The chance to build a new school will be fantastic because it gives us an absolutely fresh start and I think that’s really needed here.

“We asked the DfE twice if we could take over Houghton Regis Academy and each time we were told that wasn’t possible because it wasn’t legal.

“This suggests to you our level of commitment to the children in Houghton Regis because that would have been the ideal short-term solution.

“Unfortunately the Greenwood Trust didn’t invite us to be on its board,” she explained.

“One recommendation from children’s services committee was that councillor Ryan had some feedback from people in the school and it doesn’t make good reading.

“As much as we can bring this to life for the regional schools commissioner, so that she understands what’s going on in Houghton Regis, would be really helpful.”

The executive approved starting the commissioning process for a new school.

After the CBC executive meeting, a spokesman from the Greenwood Academies Trust said: “The school is well below capacity because a housing development due to have been built nearby has not taken place. This has led to the school being unviable, with too few pupils and too few teachers to be able to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum.

"Additionally the condition of the buildings is not appropriate for the delivery of a high-quality secondary education.

“Therefore with great regret, and despite our hard work to make the school viable, the possible closure of the school is now being considered.

“However, no decision has been made and there will be a listening period later this term when we are very keen to the views of all interested parties on this matter. We are working very hard with the DfE and the local authority to ensure that, if closure is the final decision, all pupils will have a school place and access to high-quality education provision.”