Plea for equality on sixth-forms

The head of the Association of Colleges (AoC) has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to ensure schools opening a new sixth form have good or outstanding Ofsted grades.

Martin Doel, the association’s chief executive, wrote to Mr Gove saying that as colleges needed either of Ofsted’s two top gradings to take on 14 to 16-year-olds, the same should apply to schools and academies that wanted to open sixth forms.

Mr Doel said that since the appointments of Mr Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw as head of Ofsted, the education sector had been “absolutely clear” that neither would accept anything less than good or outstanding.

He added: “AoC’s FE, sixth-form and specialist college members welcome this stance and are working hard to ensure they meet these high standards.”

 Schools and colleges should be on an equal footing”

He argued this was reflected in the policy that a college wishing to enrol 14 to 16-year-olds full time would require a good or outstanding Ofsted grade. If it had been deemed satisfactory (Ofsted’s former grade three rating) before September 2012, it would have to have shown consistent improvement in success rates between 2008 and 2011.

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said Mr Doel’s suggestion was “logical and fair”.

However, he said that Ofsted grades should not be the primary consideration.

“Clearly we would want equality of treatment . . . [but] the important criteria and limiting hurdle for any institution wishing to expand its provision should be whether there is a need for that expansion in the first place,” he said.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the suggestion.

He said: “Saying schools should be in a robust state seems to be a reasonable approach to take — schools and colleges should be on an equal footing.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told FE Week they would not expect proposals for new sixth forms to be approved if there was any doubt on standards.

They added: “Ministers are considering whether any changes need to be made to the approval process for a range of school changes, including the addition of a sixth form.”