A PRESTIGIOUS private school in the Ribble Valley has hailed the biggest influx of new students in the last 20 years.

Stonyhurst College, which was founded in 1539, is welcoming 140 new pupils for the start of the new term, an increase by a third from last year’s total of 105.

The Roman Catholic school’s feeder prep school, St Mary’s Hall, has also provided 30 students.

The school hit national headlines earlier this year after two of its students fled to the Caribbean.

Edward Bunyan and his girlfriend Indira Gainiyeva, who were 16 at the time, jetted off to the Dominican Republic in January.

After a week-long search the couple were found and brought back to the UK but were told that their places at the school were ‘untenable’.

Headmaster Andrew Johnson said that he was ‘delighted’ that the college had broken records and that more people were choosing to attend Stonyhurst.

The boarding students were welcomed to the school near Hurst Green by the headmaster yesterday, with the day pupils arriving today.

The increase in the size of the student body has swelled the ranks of the school to 488.

A new boarding house was opened in 2010 and other buildings have been converted over recent years in order to cope with more students at the college.

Mr Johnson said: “I’m delighted that so many people have decided to attend the college.

“I think that’s because of the high quality education that we provide here as well as our pastoral work.

“There is a whole range of opportunities that are available here for Stonyhurst students and we seem to be getting our message out there.

“It’s very busy here at the moment with all of the new students.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face at this time of the year is making sure that everyone is settled in and feel like Stonyhurst is their home.

“It’s great that the school has reached this record and, hopefully, next year we will have even more students coming.”

The school received an outstanding inspection report in April 2010 from Ofsted.

It caters students aged between 13 and 18.