Council and government set to clash over approval of new all-girls free school

The backers of St Anne's High School for Girls say the academy will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathmatics
The backers of St Anne's High School for Girls say the academy will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathmatics

Luton Borough Council is set to clash with the government after a new all-girls free school was given the green light.

The Department for Education has announced a free school proposal from a group of local teachers is one of 18 bids to have been approved– paving the way for an academy that will be named Saint Anne’s High School for Girls.

Plans to site Luton Girls' Academy on Kingsway never materialised and Gavin Shuker MP called the project 'bonkers'

Plans to site Luton Girls' Academy on Kingsway never materialised and Gavin Shuker MP called the project 'bonkers'

The school will provide up to 750 places for girls between the ages of 11 and 16, and is set to open in September 2017.

Though a site for the school has not yet been confirmed its backers have said that it will be located “within a three-mile radius of central Luton”.

They added that the academy will have a special focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The successful bid comes seven months after the DfE decided to axe the ill-fated Luton Girls’ Academy project, whose backers were given £180,000 of public funds but failed to make any progress.

At the time Luton South MP Gavin Shuker labelled the government’s backing of the all-girls secondary school and sixth form ‘bonkers’.

Local politicians are likely to meet the St Anne’s project with the same dissatisfaction, as it is feared that a new same-sex academy would destabilise other schools across Luton.

At a meeting of LBC’s executive commitee on Monday councillors will discuss a petition which has called for them to give the ‘utmost of attention’ to demand for same-sex places.

The petition, which is signed by 230 residents, reads: “The anticipation of a new girls’ school with its opening for September of this year was received with a very positive welcoming by the larger local community of Luton.

“The disappoinment of having to then succumb to the idea that such propositions will now not be completed has left many parents upset and distraught.”

“Currently there is a lack of provision for single sex schools in Luton.”

Responding to the petition, LBC’s school admissions and planning manager Debbie Craig said that the town has a dire shortage of school places for both sexes.

In a report she said: “An additional girls’ school will exacerbate the current mismatch in capacity between single gender schools.

“It would also skew the gender balance in other Luton schools, presenting these schools with a greater challenge in terms of behaviour management and attainment.”

She adds: “The provision of a new co-educational secondary school would be the most appropriate option to addressing the projected shortage of school places.”

Responding to criticism of plans for St Anne’s High School for Girls, a DfE spokesperson told the Luton News: “All of the schools approved in the latest round are in areas with a demand from parents for new, high quality school places.

“Saint Anne’s High School for Girls will have a particular focus on STEM subjects, giving young women in Luton the skills and experience they need to succeed in an increasingly technical global market.“

The DfE added that the backers of St Anne’s have now entered the pre-opening stage of the free school process where they will finalise plans, develop policies and undertake a statutory consultation.