A RACE to bring Oxford’s new Swan School to life and deliver desperately-needed school places has reached a major milestone.

Plans have finally been submitted to Oxford City Council to build the 1,260-pupil free school, on the site of the current Harlow Centre in Marston.

The secondary school with sixth form is due to open in temporary buildings in September 2019, and is key to preventing a school place crisis in the city.

The River Learning Trust, which will run the free school, offered the Oxford Mail exclusive first sight of new designs as it lodged the plans on Friday.

Its chief executive Paul James said: “This is a really significant milestone and there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm.

“We are all energetic about what will happen next, and that links to the fact we will be advertising for a headteacher later this month.

“Everything is starting to align and this is a significant moment in terms of progress.”

The school was delayed from its original 2017 opening date, after the Government agency responsible for free schools failed to find a site in time.

Free schools are a type of academy school, funded by the Government and free of local authority control.

All new state schools are now opened under the free school scheme, and can be run by academy trusts, parents or community organisations, as long as they can prove a need.

Mr James said: “We all recognise it has taken a bit more time than we would have wanted, but it’s exciting that things are moving to the next stage.

“I think we have certainly made up a bit of ground and I’m optimistic about things moving forward.”

Mr James said builders are keen to get on site as soon as possible, but the time frame will hinge on plans being passed and sites found for temporary accommodation.

Earlier this year it revealed the first 120-strong cohort of pupils will begin their school life in temporary buildings, as the actual Swan School will not be ready.

He added: “The contractors have worked closely with planners to get a sense prior to the submission about what concerns they might have and to address these.

“We are working to get a temporary site, and there are a few options we are positive about.”

Secondary school places are particularly sparse in Marston and Northway, where last year just 62 per cent of 146 children gained their first choice, compared to 91 per cent county-wide.

Mr James, who was formerly head of The Cherwell School, stressed the importance of meeting need in time for intake in September 2019.

He added: “This is a significant step and will hopefully reassure families in the area.”

The plans were drawn up by Galliford Try, the developer leading the project, with input from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and city council planners.

Mr James said: “It’s a building you can recognise, but that fits well in the environment and is sympathetic to the rural setting within the city.

“At the same time there is that sense of it being a modern school building, and a really exciting place for young people to learn in and prepare for their future."

Galliford Try’s senior design manager Graham Wilson added: “The site and context requires a thorough and considered developed design.

“We and the ESFA recognised the importance of responding positively and decisively to the aspirations of council officers and the local community before submitting the masterplan.

“Our aim is to streamline the planning process and deliver this much-needed school as soon as possible.”

As part of the plan, St Nicholas’ Primary School next door will be given an improved outdoor play area in exchange for land, for new road access to the Swan School.

The primary school’s headteacher Paula Phillips said: “It is great that all parties are working so well together.

“We are keen to do our very best for all children in the area and we are hopeful about the future possible opportunities for further collaboration and development across the schools.”

Education expert and county councillor John Howson said he was ‘delighted’ the plans had finally been submitted, but criticised the ESFA for the delay in finding a site in the first place.

He said the situation had been a ‘shambles’, adding: “The county council signalled far in advance that a new secondary school would be needed by 2019.

“The ESFA should apologise to parents in Oxford for not understanding that we needed this to be built by a certain date.

“If it had been left to the county council to build it, we undoubtedly would have delivered it on time.

“If a local authority can do it, surely a Government agency with far more staff and expertise should have given it priority to make sure children’s education does not suffer.”

In March the Department for Education said it was working with the Swan School and Oxfordshire County Council to deliver the new school.

Residents and Old Marston Parish Council have been outspoken in the past about concerns the school could worsen traffic on Marston Ferry Road.

It will open slightly later to appease these concerns, with a longer school day, but Prof Howson said he was still worried about the access road cutting across a busy cycle path.

Mr James said residents will be able to raise any concerns during planning consultation.

Last week the educator revealed that, unlike at Cherwell, Swan School pupils will have a uniform.

Writing in his column for the Oxford Mail's sister paper the Oxford Times he said: "We have always been open-minded about whether to have one.

"This is largely because our experience with The Cherwell School, also an RLT school, shows that you do not need a uniform to provide an excellent education."

But he said parents had expressed they would like a uniform at the school, and it would help to create a distinct culture separate to Cherwell.

The uniform will follow a colour scheme of navy blue and green.

Mr James added: "We want to be clear that we are creating something new for Oxford."

Plans will now be processed by the city council and should be published on its website within the next week or two.

Public consultation usually runs for three weeks thereafter.

The statutory time limit for decisions on major planning applications is 13 weeks, meaning the application will likely not be passed or refused until August.

Meadowbrook College

DEMOLISHING the current Harlow Centre to make way for the Swan School will spell the start of a new chapter for Meadowbrook College.

The alternative provision academy is based at the site off Marston Ferry Road, and teaches vulnerable children and teenagers who have been, or are on the verge of being, permanently excluded.

It provides full and part-time education to more than 150 students aged between five and 16 years old, and also has bases in Banbury, Kidlington and Abingdon.

Ofsted praised the school in February for its ‘tireless’ efforts getting troubled pupils back on track, and said headteacher Nicola Partridge led with ‘strength and dedication’.

As part of the plans for the Swan School, Meadowbrook College will get its own new building on site.

Mrs Partridge said: “We are excited at the prospect of our young people having a brand new, bespoke building which will enable us to further enhance our existing excellent provision.”

Ofsted rated the school ‘good’ in February, and quoted a parent in its report who said: “For the first time in years my child wants to get up and come to school.

“He comes home with a smile on his face.”

Pupils starting at the Swan School will be based in temporary accommodation while building works are completed, and the same will apply to those at Meadowbrook.

Locations of the temporary buildings have not been finalised, but accommodation could be a repurposed building or mobile classrooms.

It is hoped there will be as little disruption to pupils as possible.