DELIVERY of a slew of new schools across Oxfordshire could be slowed down by a ‘shambolic’ government process, it has been warned.

A document set to be discussed by councillors this week has revealed that at least 29 new schools are to be built in the county in the coming years, plus a further dozen depending on housing growth.

There are concerns, however, that the Department for Education (DfE)’s track record with Oxford’s delayed Swan School could be repeated in other areas of the county.

New state schools are opened as free schools – a non-selective type of academy funded by the government and outside local authority control.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency, part of the DfE, is responsible for overseeing free schools but has been blamed for the two-year lag in opening the Swan School in Marston.

Other city schools have now been asked if they can accommodate ‘bulge’ classes next year – a one-off increased admission number – to meet shortfall if the Swan does not open in temporary accommodation as planned.

County councillor John Howson predicted school delays elsewhere if the process did not accelerate.

He said: “Oxford’s situation is entirely down to the shambles from the Funding Agency over the Swan School.

“If they don’t absolutely commit to that school opening next September, [pupils] could potentially be in crisis and almost be shunted from school to school."

He stressed that Oxfordshire County Council should not be blamed as it does not oversee free schools, and said free schools had 'driven a coach and horse through efficient place planning by local authorities'.

He added: “Central government is now running the process on a different timescale, effectively screwing the whole thing.

“We’ve had to go cap in hand to academies and say ‘as a precaution, will you take a bulge class next September?’, because the government agency responsible has not done its job properly.”

Free schools can be set up by groups including charities, parents, teachers, universities, faith groups and existing academy trusts.

They have more control over aspects such as curriculum, and the government believes their roll-out delivers more choice for families.

The county council has published a new Pupil Place Plan to ensure demand is met, which will be discussed by its education scrutiny committee on Wednesday.

The document states: “Oxfordshire is experiencing rapid growth and this is having significant impact on school planning.

“There is a specific peak in the population due to transfer from primary to secondary school in 2019.

“While most of this will be met by expansions, in some areas 'bulge' classes may be required... there are specific issues known to affect Bicester and Oxford.”

The council could not state how many bulge classes would be needed as it is still processing applications, but confirmed there would be one at The Bicester School.

A spokesman stressed 'bulge classes' do not result in bigger classes, just more classes admitted in one year.

The document reveals that the funding agreement for the Swan School will not be signed in time for place allocation in spring.

It adds: “This will require existing schools to agree 'bulge' classes to enable all applicants to be offered a place, but those bulge classes may not then be required if the Swan School does open as planned.

“This will clearly be a stressful time for all involved.”

The River Learning Trust, which will run the school, has insisted it is ‘confident’ of opening in September 2019, however.

Chief executive Paul James said: “Technically it cannot be officially confirmed by the DfE that the Swan School will open next September, until further formalities of the planning process have been completed."

He said this hinged on Oxford City Council giving formal notification of planning approval, and planning permission being granted for the temporary buildings.

As announced earlier this month, these will be at The Cherwell School in Summertown.

Barbara Chillman, who manages pupil place planning at the council, said school demand is monitored closely and the vast majority of families still gain their first-choice schools despite changes in the system.

She added: “Difficulties do arise and we try our best to respond - we have a dedicated team to oversee this work and they play a crucial role in looking ahead to future years and updating planning.”

Nine new schools are expected to open in Oxfordshire by 2021, including an all-through school at Grove Airfield and a primary school in Barton, both scheduled for 2020.

The DfE was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

The ESFA's annual report, published in July, stated: "The ESFA continues to work closely with the Department [for Education] to deliver the Free Schools Programme.

"As of 31 March 2018, 474 free schools, university technical colleges (UTCs) and studio schools were open [nationally], 55 of which opened in 2017-18.

"The programme continues to approve and build new free schools where they are most needed, with over 300 schools in the pipeline to be delivered and a commitment to approve a further 110 free schools in future years."