PUPILS set to snap up the first places at an 'urgently-needed' Oxford school could be forced to start in temporary classrooms after yet another set back.

The planning application for the Swan School has been delayed, meaning the 1,260-pupil free school could still be a building site in September 2019, when the first students are due to start.

To ensure desperately-needed places are delivered in time, the initial 120-pupil cohort might have to be taught in mobile classrooms or a repurposed building, rather than the actual state-of-the-art site in Marston.

A councillor has blamed the Government for the further 'unacceptable' delay, as a Department for Education agency is responsible for delivering free schools.

It is the latest setback for the school, after a struggle to find a suitable location resulted in the opening being pushed back from 2017.

River Learning Trust, which will run the Swan School, insisted it is still on track despite the potential need for temporary accommodation.

Its chief executive Paul James said: "The planning process inevitably brings with it some uncertainties over timescales, and delivering a major school is a particularly complex project.

"We of course have to plan for the possibility that the new buildings might not be ready for the school's planned opening."

He said the team is working on a contingency plan which could involve 'a period in temporary accommodation', either in mobile classrooms or an adapted building.

Mr James admitted a location for a temporary site has not yet been identified, however, adding: "It's unlikely to be on the Marston site, so building can move as rapidly as possible.

"We are obviously trying to find a location as suitable as possible for students' educational experience."

The trust originally hoped to lodge a planning application with Oxford City Council by in the first few weeks of this year.

It is set to built on the controversial site of the Harlow Centre off Marston Ferry Road, fuelling concerns about increased congestion.

The masterplan includes a modern school building, sports facilities, and a new building for pupil referral unit Meadowbrook College, currently housed in the Harlow Centre.

Developer Galliford Try said its team has been fine-tuning the Swan School's design with the help of planners, to ensure there are no delays once the application is submitted.

The company's senior design manager, Graham Wilson, said: "This is crucial to ensure that we can deliver this urgently-required secondary school in time to address the projected future shortfall.

"This way we can try to ensure that any potential issues are addressed in advance."

He said the application should be submitted 'in the near future', but could not be more specific.

Parents should still be able to apply for places this September, even if the application has not been approved by then.

Mr James said: "We know from elsewhere in the country that where situations like this arise, admissions to new schools are done in parallel with admission process to existing schools.

"Parents should apply to the new school as well as separately applying for places in other schools through [Oxfordshire County Council's] usual admissions process."

He refuted rumours that the project had stalled completely, adding: "We are as committed as ever to delivering secondary school places where they are needed, when they are needed, providing an excellent secondary education."

Without the Swan School, the city will not have enough school places to go around in September 2019.

Last year just 62 per cent of 146 children in Marston and Northway gained their first choice school, compared to 91 per cent county-wide.

Among parents whose child missed out was Amanda Kerr, whose daughter landed a place across the city at St Gregory the Great School, but eventually managed to move to Cheney School.

Dr Kerr, whose son hopes to join the Swan School in 2020, said: "It's not ideal that pupils might be in temporary classrooms, but we need local places.

"This is just logistical, we can sort it out. It's not a fundamental problem."

Oxfordshire county councillor and education expert John Howson pointed the finger at the Government's Education and Skills Funding Agency, responsible for free schools.

He said: "It's unacceptable. The Government knew 2019 was going to be the pinch-point, but did not get the site sorted earlier enough.

"The county's [council] planning team does a really excellent job and understood the consequences of not meeting that deadline."

He said problems started 'as soon as it was taken out of their hands'.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Education and Skills Funding Agency is working with the Swan School and Oxfordshire County Council to establish a permanent home for the school.

"More details will be provided in due course.”