Under threat area review colleges step in as local school shuts sixth form

Three Greater Manchester colleges subject to one of the government’s post-16 education area reviews have been called on to take learners from a local school after it suspended sixth form enrolment.

Parents and carers of prospective Stockport Academy sixth formers have been told by the school that Stockport College, Aquinas College and Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College — three of 21 Greater Manchester colleges whose futures have been put into question by an area review — could take their children.

Small numbers in preceding years at the academy, which opened just eight years ago, forced the temporary move from next September — and it has drawn an angry response from the FE sector with the school exempt from the same area review process that could ultimately see the colleges closed.

James Kewin (pictured above), deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said it highlighted the “absurdity of not including schools and academies in the area review process”.

And while schools did not automatically feature in any of the six area reviews announced so far by the government, Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel said they should take into account “the unsustainable nature of all post-16 school provision”.

He also said the government should not open any new post-16 school provision while reviews were taking place.

The government has said the “need” to move towards “fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers,” underlies the area reviews.

However, Mr Kewin said increasing pressure on pre-16 funding meant more schools were questioning whether maintaining an “unviable” sixth form with money intended for younger students was sustainable.

He said: “Although this may have been a difficult decision for Stockport Academy, it was also a sensible one. Many school and academy sixth forms limp on with uneconomic class sizes and a narrow curriculum, which leave students poorly served.

“If all sixth form providers were in scope [of the area reviews] it would be much easier to ensure that all young people had access to sustainable and high quality 16 to 19 provision.”

Mr Doel said: “We are likely to see more school sixth forms suspending enrolment as funding pressures grow.”

He added that in its Spending Review submission, the AoC recommended that school sixth forms with fewer than 250 students merge with others.

“We hope that this could not only ease the funding pressure but create a more stable environment for students,” he said.

“We will be speaking to local councils and regional schools commissioners about the future of sixth form provision in their area as and when the reviews are completed,” he added.

David Robinson, governors’ board chair at Stockport Academy, said: “To run a viable sixth form we need a minimum of 100 students per year group and currently have 49 on roll in Year 12 with lower numbers than this likely in the future from our small current years 9 and 10.

“Taking into account our need to provide more Year 7 spaces and the falling intake at Year 12, our conclusion is that with regret we will suspend enrolling students into our Sixth Form from September 2016.”

Ryan Jones, assistant principal of Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College, said: “We have guaranteed all Stockport Academy students a place at the college subject to satisfactory references.”

It comes after FE Week reported on September 25 that 21 general FE colleges and 13 sixth form colleges (SFCs) were to be be involved in three extra post-16 education and training area reviews announced by the government.

They are for Tees Valley, Sussex Coast and Solent regions — with the government warning that more area reviews will be announced “shortly”.

A previous story by FE Week on September 8 reported that 22 general FE colleges and 16 SFCs were to be involved in the first round of post-16 education and training area reviews announced by the government, in Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City region.

The results of an exclusive FE Week survey published on September 11 also showed that almost 90 per cent of principals affected by the first area reviews announced on September 8 were unhappy with the government’s guidance.

It comes after five FE colleges and SFCs facing “significant financial challenges” announced on July 21 that they are “actively considering” collaboration plans, following a review of post-16 provision in North East Norfolk and North Suffolk.

It came a day after BIS announced plans, in its report reviewing post-16 education and training institutions, for a “programme of area-based reviews to review 16+ provision in every area” of the country.

Stockport College declined to comment on the area reviews or the suspension of enrolment at Stockport Academy sixth form. Aquinas College did not respond.

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