Colleges to step in as school plans to scrap its sixth form provision

Local colleges are ready to take on A-level students from a school sixth form set to close because of plummeting learner numbers.

The government’s schools adjudicator David Lennard Jones confirmed today that he had approved plans to close the sixth form at Culcheth High School, in Warrington.

It is understood the school will continue educating current sixth formers in their second year of A-levels but not take on anyone for Year 12, before officially shutting down on August 31 next year.

Many Culcheth High School learners who have just completed their GCSEs will be transferring to Priestley College — which is rated as outstanding by Ofsted and already has around 1,500 A-level learners.

Matthew Grant, deputy principal of Priestley College which is just six miles from Culcheth High School, told FE Week: “This has been on the cards since Christmas so many young people in Year 11 have applied to us already.

“We take on between 70 and 90 pupils from Culcheth every year anyway and are expecting an extra 20 or 30 from there this year, which will be in a strong position to accept.”

Learners from Culcheth High School will also have the option of attending nearby Winstanley College, St Helen’s College, Carmel Sixth Form College, in St Helens, and Warrington Collegiate.

A spokesperson for Warrington Collegiate said: “Together with the other local colleges, we have been making the Culcheth students aware of alternate provision in the area.

“We have been in contact with Year 10 students there to discuss their long-term plans for where they want to move to.”

Warrington Borough Council first published plans in March to close Culcheth High School’s sixth form, which only had 58 students last year.

Its executive committee agreed to the closure in June but the final decision was deferred to the government’s schools adjudicator.

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form College Association, said: “I’m sure the local sixth form colleges will be in a good position to take on the extra students.

“Although we don’t recommend that one size fits all, there is no question from looking at all the relevant indicators that quality sixth form colleges out-perform all competitors.

“The problem with a small school sixth form is it cannot offer the breadth of A-level subjects young people need.

“The average sixth form college now has around 1,700 students, while the average school sixth form has just over 200. Economies of scale apply, so it is more expensive per pupil for them to provide sixth form provision and they end up having to subsidise from other funding streams, such as that for 11 to 16-year-olds.”

Mr Lennard Jones’s report confirmed that the school had struggled to retain sufficient learner numbers at its sixth form.

He said: “The evidence is that demand for places at the [Culcheth] sixth form is limited and that most pupils in Year 11 at the school choose to go elsewhere for sixth form provision.

“The admission number for the school for Year 7 is 230 and the school has over 200 pupils in each of Years 7 to 11, but very few in past years have then stayed at the school for the sixth form.”

Culcheth High School was unavailable for comment.