ROBERT Blake Science College will be able to accommodate up to 300 new pupils in the next few years.

The opportunity comes as Somerset County Council builds a new secondary school for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) on Bower Lane in Bridgwater.

The new Polden Bower facility will allow existing pupils from Elmwood and Penrose special schools to be taught together under one roof – with Elmwood’s existing facilities due to close as a result.

The council has now approved proposals for the science college to take over the former Elmwood building.

Liz Smith, the council’s service manager for schools commissioning, said: “Current capacity at Robert Blake Science College is 900, and a further 300 places can be added as a result of Elmwood moving out.

“Not all places will be bought into use at once. In the first instance an increase from 194 pupils per year group to 210 per year group is planned, and then at a later date when demand requires it to 240 per year group.”

Robert Blake, located on Hamp Avenue, was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted following its most recent inspection in December 2019.

Under normal circumstances, struggling schools are not permitted to expand their premises, on the basis that teaching larger pupil cohorts could prevent a rise in standards.

However, Ms Smith said an exception was being made in this case since there were no other viable options to deliver new secondary school places in this part of  Bridgwater.

She said: “The proposal to expand is still being pursued because there are no other achievable options for the additional places, as the expansion of specialist and mainstream provision were considered in parallel.”

Demand for secondary school places in Bridgwater is expected to rise over the next five years, as a result of the Hinkley Point C construction and new families moving into the Kingsdown, Stockmoor and Wilstock housing developments.

An extra 300 places are already in place at Bridgwater College Academy on Parkway, and a further 150 could be delivered in the coming years by expanding Chilton Trinity School in the north of the town.

The new Polden Bower school is expected to be completed by the summer of 2021, meaning the expansion of Robert Blake is likely to take place over the following two years.