A Bradford-based academy trust has unveiled plans for an “elite” all-girls STEM sixth form college. But, the proposals have gathered a mixed response from local education chiefs.
Feversham Education Trust is consulting on its early proposals with a view to submitting a bid to wave 15 of the Department for Education’s free school application process.
Government ambitions for new “elite” sixth forms emerged earlier this year as part of its levelling up white paper, targeted at the 55 education investment areas (of which Bradford is one) where it aims to bolster opportunities for disadvantaged pupils.
To date, the most high-profile bids have been from renowned private school Eton College, which has teamed up with Star Academies to submit proposals for selective sixth forms in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham.
The government’s plan proved divisive at the time of the announcement, with the response to Feversham’s bid similarly mixed.
Luminate Education Group, which runs schools and colleges in the proposed catchment, said it was “short-sighted” and “saw little value in the concept of elite sixth forms”.
Gemma Simmons-Blench, deputy chief executive for quality and curriculum, told FE Week: “In an educational context, the elitist model inevitably leads to fragmentation of provision and a ‘winner versus losers’ scenario – the opposite of the inclusive, collaborative approach we and other colleges have been successfully pursuing”.
She said elite sixth forms “will offer nothing for the many students who would benefit from a more technical or vocational approach, rather than a narrowly academic one.”
The group warned that “unnecessary competition” could put some institutions and their programmes at risk of closure.
The sixth form would have 250 students in each year group and admit girls aged 16 to 18 from Bradford and the neighbouring cities and districts.
But a Feversham Education Trust spokesperson defended its plans.
“Given the ongoing need to improve female representation in the STEM sector, and the clear demand from related businesses for jobs and talent both regionally and nationally, we are in the very early stages of considering the establishment of an all-girls STEM sixth form college, to provide a proactive and innovative solution to these challenges,” the spokesperson said.
As part of its consultation, Feversham is asking interested parties whether other specialisms should be considered, such as humanities, English, law or social sciences.
It is also asking for feedback on the types of courses it should offer, including A-levels, T Levels, BTECs and apprenticeships.
The trust already runs two girls secondary schools and a primary, meaning the sixth form would likely provide an avenue of progression for its current students.
The bid has been backed by Bradford Council. A spokesperson said Feversham has “a track record of delivering outstanding Ofsted-rated provision that is valued by the local community.
“We remain committed to working with all partners to deliver improved outcomes in the post 16 phase in the Bradford district.”
The spokesperson added that while there was “not a basic need for places in the district,” the proposal contributes to ambitions of improving post-16 education and “also the national challenge that not enough young women are pursuing STEM pathways into higher education or as a career choice”.
Imran Hussain, Labour MP for Bradford East, also said he was delighted with Feversham’s plans in “opening new doors” for girls’ participation in STEM.
“With girls woefully underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and maths fields and careers, particularly computer science and engineering, the whole country is missing out on the potential that they can bring, and we need to be doing much more to break down the barriers that many women and girls face in taking up these subjects and seeing it as a viable future career.”