A PROCESS has begun to agree a suitable site for Keighley's new sixth-form college after the Government gave the green light for the scheme.

New Collaborative Learning Trust – which is behind the initiative – said site selection was now underway for the facility, which will offer a range of A-level and equivalent courses for up to 1,000 16-to-19-year-olds.

It's hoped New College Keighley, as it will be known, will welcome its first students in September 2025 or 2026.

The venture is supported by politicians.

But Keighley College and several fellow further education providers in the region are opposed to the plans, and proposals for other free schools which have been approved.

Free schools are funded by the Government, but are not run by local authorities.

In a joint statement, West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges – of which Keighley College parent organisation Luminate Education Group is a part – said: "We were disappointed to learn of the free school applications that have been approved in the region.

"Earlier this year, we warned of the negative impact the proposed new schools would have on current education institutions. We are frustrated that throughout the application process, we have not been consulted and our concerns around duplication haven't been addressed.

"The sad reality is that this will create overcapacity and unhelpful competition for Level 3 students and will shrink, rather than enhance, the learning opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged young people. Our view remains that the approved free schools will be a potential waste of precious taxpayer money and could lead to some providers being forced to close."

However, many favour the scheme.

Bradford Council leader, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, describes it as "great news for Keighley and the wider Bradford district" and "a key step forward to improve post-16 outcomes".

She adds: "New Collaborative Learning Trust has a strong track record in Yorkshire and, closer to home, here in the district since the opening of New College Bradford in 2019. This has driven positive change for A-level provision in Bradford and we’ve seen significant improvement in attainment, alongside the ability to offer a broad range of high-quality pathways that open up life-changing opportunities for our young people.

"We want to make sure we secure opportunities for Keighley young people which are allied to their talent, energy and ambition. It’s great news for the town and its future.

"We look forward to working collaboratively with the trust, and with partners in the district, to realise the vision for New College Keighley."

Keighley MP Robbie Moore says the Keighley scheme will join 14 new free schools across the country "as part of Government efforts to raise educational outcomes for disadvantaged students".

He adds: "Free schools are most commonly run by academy trusts, but also businesses and universities, and have greater freedom to innovate and drive up standards – for example more autonomy over teachers' pay and the curriculum.

"Increasing opportunity and raising school standards is vital for our young people, which is why I am delighted the Government has announced that a new free school will be coming to Keighley.

"The New Collaborative Learning Trust already has a successful track record setting up high-quality schools in Bradford, Pontefract and Doncaster, with Pontefract receiving an 'outstanding' rating from Ofsted. I look forward to working with the trust as well as the Department for Education to make this new school a success."

The scheme is also welcomed by Labour's Keighley parliamentary candidate, John Grogan.

He says: "Keighley’s young people from every background deserve the very best education and I believe sixth-form colleges can offer a wider range of subjects and opportunities.

"Many young people like them because they have a more adult atmosphere and can be a good bridge between school and the world of work or university.

"The truth is many youngsters from Keighley and neighbouring villages leave the area every morning for schools and colleges elsewhere in West Yorkshire and across the border in North Yorkshire.

"A sixth-form college of excellence could begin to reverse that trend.

"Furthermore, it could help to bridge the educational divide, which in some recent years saw around 28 per cent of Keighley young people attend a university against a national average of 37.5 per cent."

Richard Fletcher, chief executive of New Collaborative Learning Trust, says: "Our three colleges work closely together, ensuring that young people in Bradford, Doncaster and Pontefract have a consistently outstanding experience and reach their true potential. We’re really proud of our sixth-form colleges and are looking forward to extending the opportunity to young people in the Keighley area."