COUNCIL leaders have voiced concern that a new free school will take pupils and money away from existing schools.

A month after Councillor Chris Chappell claimed the proposed Robert Owen Vocational School would “decimate” education in the county, Councillor Graham Powell, cabinet member for education, and Chris Baird, assistant director at Herefordshire Council, have voiced their own concerns.

Coun Powell told the Hereford Times: “We’re having difficulty understanding what it is that the Robert Owen Vocational School is going to bring to Herefordshire.

“We work well with our faith and maintained schools. I think we have a good relationship with them and we want that to continue.

“We’ve been trying since July to understand the details of the Robert Owen proposal – what it is they want to bring to Herefordshire, where and what the curriculum will offer – but, to be honest, we’re still in a void.”

The Leominster-based Robert Owen group secured Department for Education approval to go ahead with plans for a free school for 14 to 19-year-olds in July. Whitehall will not, however, agree funding until it receives the results of a public consultation.

The Robert Owen group told the Hereford Times that consultation should start in the new year.

Mr Baird, however, expressed doubts that the school will deliver what is being promised in promotional material.

“We are concerned the promotional prospectus is setting a level of expectation that cannot be fulfilled,” he said.

“It is hard for prospective parents and pupils to make important choices when they don’t have all the facts.”

Coun Powell did not go as far as saying he believes a new vocational school would force other county schools to close, but confirmed any new school would impact on funding as Herefordshire schools receive money per pupil.

Any students who chose to attend a new school would, therefore, take money away from an existing school.

Coun Powell added: “I can’t quantify what that means at the moment and it is that uncertainty which gives me the most concern.”

The location of the new school is still not clear, but as previously reported, it could open for year 10 pupils in September 2013, and offer the new Vocational Baccalaureate qualification alongside general studies.