Disappointment as opening of new Kempston SEND school delayed

Artist impression of the new Kempston SEND school on the former Robert Bruce site
Rivertree Free SEND school in Kempston. Image: Bedford Borough Council

There is disappointment after it was announced earlier this week that the opening of the new SEND school on the former Rober Bruce School site will be delayed and now take place in phases.

Bedford Borough Council is set to meet with parents to prepare for the new special education needs (SEN) Rivertree Free School, on Hillgrounds Road, which will eventually be home for 200 pupils, one of the largest schools of its kind in the country.

The £26million school will be for children and young people aged from two to 19 years old from across Bedford Borough, whose needs have been identified as requiring specialist educational placements.

Pupils attending this new school will predominantly have profound and multiple learning disabilities, severe learning disabilities and autism.

It was hoped that the school would be fully open in time for the 2024/2025 school year in September, but this has now been delayed due to what the Council says are “unforeseen circumstances”.

Read: Former head’s pride as work continues at new Kempston SEND school

Cllr Max Royden, Children and Education spokesperson for Bedford Liberal Democrats, has said the delay is disappointing and blamed the current administration for the hold up.

“Children and young people, staff and parents and carers have been let down by this delay, they must be at the heart of everything we do.

“With funding for this trailblazing school being secured under our previous administration, led by former Mayor Dave Hodgson, it is disappointing that the Conservative administration have failed to keep the focus and deliver it on time in this home stretch.”

A spokesperson for Bedford Borough Council however said that the Council will still be making sure those who were due to attend the school will still get the education they need.

“Rivertree will be a fantastic addition to the network of schools in Bedford Borough when it opens this autumn,” they said.

“While delays with building work will result in the opening later than we had first hoped, the Council is committed to ensuring that the children who are due to join Rivertree will continue to receive an appropriate education and for their needs to continue to be met until such time as the new school opens.”

However, Bedford Borough’s Liberal Democrats point our that the Council’s own figures show the numbers of students with EHCPs (Education Health and Care Plans) has risen by 23% in the Borough over the past four years, creating what they call “acute pressure on mainstream schools.

Rivertree school will now open over three phases – 2024, September 2025, and September 2026, with 60 pupils in the first cohort

The council says this will give the Trust, staff, and Council the chance to help prepare for the children’s transfer to the new school.

Bedford Borough Council is also hosting information-sharing sessions for families on Thursday, 23 May, with an opportunity to meet staff from the school and the Trust.

Representatives from Bedford Borough Council’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) service will also be there.

Rivertree Free School has been funded in conjunction with the Department for Education (DfE) and will be run by the Bedford Inclusive Learning & Training Trust (BILTT).