Studio school to stop recruiting from 14 and become sixth form

Studio school to stop recruiting from 14 and become sixth form

A former Ofsted ‘outstanding’ studio school has announced it will stop recruiting from age 14 and only offer provision for 16 to 19-year-olds from 2018/19.

Rye Studio School, in East Sussex, wrote to parents to inform them of the conversion to a sixth form centre last week.

It will become the 16th institution of its kind to either close or stop delivering provision from 14 since the model’s conception in 2010.

Studio schools are a vocational-based alternative to mainstream education for 14 to 19-year-olds, similar to university technical colleges but with smaller cohorts of up to just 300 pupils.

The news on Rye Studio School will be the latest blow to those who have been trying to push post-14, including Lord Baker for UTCs, as a better age for vocational-based learner recruitment to post-16 traditionally for FE colleges.

The school in east Sussex, which was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2015 but slumped to ‘requires improvement’ in January, will have a “period of consolidation” during 2017/18.

This means the school will continue to deliver teaching to pupils who have already started courses from age 14, but not be accepting new pupils for years 10 and 12 from the next academic year.

In 2018/19, the studio school will re-design as a 16-to-19 sixth form centre and will be called Studio 6.

Tim Hulme, chief executive of Rye Academy Trust which runs three schools, said the decision was down to financial pressures which are hitting the trust as a whole.

He said the trust is “now at breaking point” and the only way some schools are going to manage “this significant cut in real terms” is through a “re-organisation”.

“The trust is a relatively small one and cannot sustain the current level of operating costs against a backdrop of cuts to pupil funding,” Mr Hulme said.

“Our three Schools are struggling to function adequately on a day-to-day basis, and, in addition, we are severely hampered in our ability to recruit and retain staff.

“I am totally committed to all our learners – we are looking to have a year of consolidation for the studio with view to re-design it for 2018/19. Studio 6 will offer several vocational pathways alongside the popular creative courses.”

Mr Hulme added that for any pupils who have applied and been accepted to join the studio school from 2017/18, they will be “escorted to other local colleges who offer sixth form provision”.

Rye Studio School’s conversion decision makes it the 16th institution of its kind to either close or stop delivering provision at age 14.

It follows plans to close by the Future Tech Studio School in Warrington earlier this month, which cited low pupil numbers as the reason for the decision – a common problem for the studio school model.

The two recent announcements mean just 34 studio schools will be left open.

Analysis of Ofsted data by FE Week’s sister paper Schools Week last March showed that of the 31 studio schools that had been visited, 21 were less than half full and only one reached the 300-pupil mark.

David Nicoll, the Studio Schools Trust’s chief executive, previously told Schools Week that the schools have had difficulties recruiting because the model is not seen as “traditional”.

Recruitment at 14 has proved to be a tough ask, with Michael Gove, a key ministerial architect of the UTC model, recently admitting the experiment had failed.

The former education secretary wrote in his column in The Times in February that “the evidence has accumulated and the verdict is clear” on the 14-to-19 institutions.

He said: “Twice as many UTCs are inadequate as outstanding, according to Ofsted. UTC pupils have lower GCSE scores, make less progress academically and acquire fewer qualifications than their contemporaries in comprehensives.”