THE first free school in Oxfordshire has been given the go-ahead to open for lessons next year.

It means a unique bilingual education will be available to hundreds of Oxfordshire children, after ministers backed the project last night.

The Europa School will open on the site of The European School in Culham, growing over five years until it teaches 800 pupils aged from four to 18.

It will teach lessons in English, French and German and enter pupils into European Baccalaureate exams instead of GCSEs.

It will grow in size as The European School winds down towards closure in 2017.

But unlike the existing school, which charges £3,357-a-year for secondary education, its replacement will be free of charge.

Children from Oxford, Abingdon, Wantage, south Oxfordshire and parts of Berkshire will be able to apply for places.

Chairman of directors Professor Andrew Parker said: “We are hugely excited and very much looking forward to setting up the school.

“We have a tight timetable over the next few weeks, but the entire community is now very much behind this.”

After a period of statutory consultation and further negotiations with The European School over sharing premises, up to 168 pupils will start in Reception, Year One and Year Two classes in September 2012.

Subjects will be taught both in English and either French or German.

Professor Parker said: “We still have to go through the process of discussion over the use of the Culham site.

“We anticipate that by 2017, we will be opening up our school to all year groups across the board right up to 18.

“We will put in a lot of language support early on to ensure that children really are fluent by the time they enter secondary education.”

Professor Parker, whose daughter goes to The European School, said the language skills would help pupils’ future employment prospects, and also improve youngsters’ English.

“It is interesting that many other state schools up and down the UK are beginning to think in these terms,” he said.

“We may be out at the front, but we are not alone.”

It will seek accreditation to teach the European Baccalaureate, for which pupils sit exams in more than one language to pass.

Under the new admissions policy, if the school is oversubscribed, half of places will be given to children living closest to the school on the A415 in Culham.

Thirty per cent will go to those who live closest to County Hall, in New Road, Oxford, and 10 per cent each to pupils who live closest to specified points in Grove and Purley.

In May, nearby Culham Parochial C of E Primary School won a last-minute reprieve from closure after long-running problems over a falling roll and lack of a permanent head.

Chairman of governors Andrew Churchill Stone said he did not believe the new school would threaten its future again.