Plans for a new Jewish high school in Borehamwood were unveiled this week amid the rubble of the old Hillside School, in Hillside Avenue.

Building work on the new school, to be called the Yavneh College, started last week and the first stage is expected to be completed in time for the arrival of the first students in September.

A wall-breaking ceremony this week was attended by the Mayor of Hertsmere, Councillor Ron Gealy, and Rabbi Alan Plancey, from Elstree and Borehamwood Synagogue.

Malcolm Gordon, chair of the school's temporary board of governors, said this was a time for celebration.

"Today we see the beginning of the final stage of this fantastic project," he said.

"The Jewish community is a part of the town and the school will be an important addition to that. We will be part of the Hertfordshire family of schools and we look forward to a good relationship with Hertswood School, in Cowley Hill, Borehamwood currently the only secondary school in Borehamwood."

The voluntary-aided school will work under the religious jurisdiction of the United Synagogue and the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, and will have a synagogue on site which will be made available to the community. Explaining the choice of name, Dr Sacks said: "The name Yavneh reminds us of one of the turning points in Jewish history when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai predicated Jewish survival on education. It is the right name and the right message for the new school."

The school, which will take pupils aged from 11 to 18, has already received more than 300 applications for the 90 places available in September. Eventually it is hoped the school will cater for 1,000 pupils including a sixth form once building work is completed in 2011. Recently, the site has been available to hire as a film location and has featured in TV shows such as Footballers' Wives, Silent Witness and EastEnders.

The £20 million redevelopment project will involve the demolition of most of the buildings on the current site. Hertfordshire County Council has already committed £1m to the renovation of the existing sports hall and playing fields and, once completed, the new facilities will be open to members of the public outside of school hours.

Mr Plancey said the school was the fulfilment of a dream for the Jewish community in Borehamwood and meant that youngsters in the town would no longer have to travel to other areas for their education.

The school also announced they had successfully filled all the senior teaching posts including that of the headteacher, Dr Dena Coleman, previously of Bushey Mead School, Bushey.

She emphasised the importance of a faith school in the wider community.

"It is important that we help pupils to learn more about their own history and help them feel more comfortable in who they are," she said. "It reinforces community identity especially in a small minority."

The first offer letters for a place at the school were sent out this week and priority was given to pupils who attended Hertsmere Jewish Primary or Clore Shalom schools and who live closest to the site.