Building work on Alderman Knight School's £1.9million new sixth form has begun.

It is the latest upward turn in the remarkable story of the Tewkesbury special school, which bounced back after nearly closing ten years ago. Just three years after undergoing a £5.7million revamp, the Ashchurch Road school is set for another major structural development.

Workers from construction firm E G Carter & Co Ltd have begun preparing an area that had hosted four dilapidated tennis courts between the school and neighbouring Tewkesbury School. The site had been owned by the latter but was transferred to Alderman Knight after the project was backed by the Government and granted planning permission by Gloucestershire County Council.

It is that authority which is paying for the sixth form, which is likely to be formally called a Post 16 Centre.

It will cater for 15 pupils and add to the provision for children with learning difficulties at the school. At the moment it takes them from the age of four to 16. Those wanting to stay in education after they are 16 have to move on to further education at a college or an independent specialist provider

Deputy head teacher Matt Peplow said: "We're very excited. It was our head teacher Clare Steel's vision from day one. She felt there was a gap in the county provision. "It is as important as the new build in 2013 was, I would say. It's progress and growth. "In our opinion, and the local authority's, it's filling in the gap in the provision."

The sixth form's facilities will include an ICT suite, a large common room, three classroom spaces and break-out rooms for smaller groups.

With both schools keen to strengthen the links between them, Mr Peplow said it was planned for Tewkesbury School to have access to Alderman Knight's sixth form and some of the latter's pupils might spend some time in the bigger school's lessons and canteen area.

If all goes to plan with the building work, the sixth form will be finished by August 2017 so that pupils can begin using it at the start of the new academic year the following month.

Alderman Knight School was nearly shut down between 2004 and 2006 by the county council, as part of a plan to integrate children with moderate learning difficulties into mainstream education.

But, partly due to a campaign from those bitterly opposed to the move, the authority changed its mind.