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Boffins trash the tiny sixth form

Independent consultants sound death knell for small post-16 provision, saying the 14-19 learning pathways require a college environment

TINY SCHOOL sixth forms that lack student choice are no longer viable with the emergence of the vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways initiative, concluded consultants who wrote a damning report on educational provision and standards in Rhyl, North Wales.

Independent reviewers Cambridge Education consultants come out in favour of closing two sixth forms with 120 pupils in the bustling seaside town Rhyl High School and Blessed Edward Jones RC High School and transferring all students to the sixth-form centre at Llandrillo College.

According to the report Modernising Education, Rhyl High School will lose 10 members of staff and pound;350,000 per year if the closures go-ahead after consultation. But the verdict that learner-choice should come first will come as a blow to headteachers, who see the existence of their "small and friendly" sixth forms as bringing in much-needed funding and prestige in other areas of Wales.

Heads and teachers "value sixth forms because of their supposed impact on parental preference and pupil motivation", says the report.

But it says these reasons come far behind the lack of delivery and insufficient choice currently given to students taking A-level qualifications and their vocational equivalents in the town at present.

It criticises the local 14-19 network for failing to broaden choice for students as part of the national learning pathways agenda, something desperately needed with the "alarming" number of people not in education, employment or training (NEETS) in the town.

It concludes that the sheer existence of the sixth forms could be making poor standards at 11-16 worse as they attract "the most experienced teachers".

Firmly siding with the college solution, giving the argument for FE colleges across Wales a major boost, it says: "The stereotype of the soul-less FE institution which cares nothing for its students' learning support needs belongs somewhere in the 1970s."

Mark Edwards, who has been at the helm of Rhyl high for just three weeks, said: "I am all for collaboration and moves towards the 14-19 agenda where the existing set-up might not be viable.

"However, I see no reason why solutions can't be found which preserve the sixth forms while also ensuring students have more access to courses at the college. It seems that Rhyl High has been singled out and there is a feeling that the report's conclusions should have been applicable to all schools in Denbighshire."

A posting on the school's website in June says that parents and governors "were prepared to fight tooth and nail" to keep the school open. "It is an emotive subject and the report has not helped," added Mr Edwards.

The conclusions on sixth-form provision became clouded last week with an unsuspecting attack in the consultant's report on education standards and political leadership in Denbighshire the second-lowest spender per pupil in secondary schools in Wales.

A similarly scathing report, published by Welsh inspectorate Estyn last Friday on quality and standards in education and training in Denbighshire, has left the authority insisting that improvements are the highest priority.

The county scored a below-par 4 the next to lowest by Estyn in all four key areas of management, school improvement, promoting social inclusion and well being and additional learning needs.

The report says there has been a downward trend over the past three years in sixth-form performance in the number of learners attaining two or more A-C grades and A-E at AS and A-level. Overall performance at key stages 1, 2 and 4 is also below the average for Wales.

Jane Hutt, Wales's education minister, said in the Senedd on Tuesday she would not be using her powers to intervene.

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