A SENIOR educational figure has slammed a proposed new free school in Keighley as "unneeded" and "elitist".

And he is calling for the venture, approved last month by the Government, to be scrapped.

New Collaborative Learning Trust is behind the planned facility, which will offer a range of A-level and equivalent courses for up to 1,000 16-to-19-year-olds.

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

But this week, Colin Booth – chief executive officer of Luminate Education Group, which runs Keighley College – hit out at the scheme and plans for 14 other new free schools given the green light by the Government.

He warns that New College Keighley faces failure, or will threaten existing provision.

"The Government went ahead with the announcement for capital investment into 15 new 16-to-19 free schools that are clearly and demonstrably not needed and have nothing to do with ‘levelling up’," says Mr Booth.

"This was a politically-driven decision which ignores any rational assessment of where investment should be prioritised.

"The Treasury has said that there is no new money available for capital investment in education. The recent decision to invest in unneeded selective and elitist free schools should therefore now be reversed and the money used where the evidence shows that it is urgently needed.

"The Government has made choices about what it could afford which fly in the face of any logical thought or rational policy."

He says the Keighley scheme demonstrates "how much of a waste of public money" the new free schools will be.

Mr Booth adds: "The new 1,000-place sixth form in Keighley will focus on A-levels.

"It will take until 2026 or even 2027 before the new sixth form is physically completed – the first young people through the doors will therefore currently be aged 12 or 13. Data shows there are 4,240 children aged ten to 14 in Keighley – an average of 848 per year group.

"The proportion of young people in England starting a three or four-subject A-level programme at age 16 has fallen over the last three years from 43 per cent to 40 per cent, and the proportion in Keighley is lower than the national average. If the national rollout of the new vocational T-level courses is successful, then some young people who start A-levels at 16 now will move to start on T-level courses by 2026.

"In 2021-22 there were a total of 1,510 students aged 16 to 18 on full-time courses from the Keighley Central, East and West wards, attending all school sixth forms inside and outside Keighley. Fewer than one third were studying A-levels.

"What this tells us very clearly is that there aren’t, and never will be, anywhere close to 1,000 young people from Keighley who want or need to study A-levels. In order to fill the new free school in Keighley with A-level students, it would need all of the local school sixth forms to close and for all the 16-year-olds in Keighley with five or more good GCSEs to choose to study A-levels at the new college. Even then it would not be full, unless it also takes students currently studying at the existing Keighley College plus other local FE colleges and school sixth forms outside Keighley.

"The logical conclusion is that either the new free school will fail, or a number of other colleges and school sixth forms will close or be destabilised. Why would anyone want to plan future education provision and the opportunities for our young people in this way?"

New Collaborative Learning Trust – which has existing colleges in Bradford, Doncaster and Pontefract – is currently in the process of agreeing a suitable site for its Keighley facility.

The scheme was welcomed by local politicians, who said it could help increase opportunities and raise standards.

Richard Fletcher, chief executive of New Collaborative Learning Trust, said: "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."