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Blackburn College's £5k gamble on students' A level success pays off

It wasn’t just the students at Blackburn College who had cause to celebrate its impressive 99 per cent A-level pass rate today. Principal Ian Clinton could also have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief.

Back in 2010, he took the bold step of offering his sixth form students a guarantee: if they turned up to 95 per cent of their classes and handed in all their work on time and to a satisfactory standard, they would come away from the college with at least a pass. He even went so far as to put his money where his mouth was: if they didn’t achieve this minimum target, the college would hand them £5,000.

Not surprisingly, the move came in for plenty of media attention, and was even labelled a “charter for dunces”.

But Mr Clinton insisted he knew what he was doing, and stressed that the guarantee had been created to instil confidence in Blackburn’s young people that they were capable of achieving academic success.

A year ago, the first cohort of students who signed up proved his confidence was well-founded. Today it emerged that, for the second successive year, the college has not been forced to fork out for failure. Indeed, 70 per cent of its students' grades were C or better.

Wendy Simms, the college’s director of academic studies, told TES that this year’s cohort had done “really well”.

“The main reason for the £5,000 offer was to make parents and students realise that, as long as they did what they were supposed to do, they would pass," she said. "What it’s done is show how extremely confident we are that what we’re doing is right. Providing they stay on track, things will be fine. It has given people a bit of confidence, and shows the principal’s faith in the staff and students.”

Last year, buoyed with the scheme’s success, Mr Clinton revealed the college was considering upping the guarantee to £10,000, but this idea has since been scrapped. Here at TES Towers, we reckon this is probably for the best: with FE funding in short supply, there’s no point in tempting fate.

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