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Careful talk compensates for subsidy

David Eade's remarks (Letters, TES, October 31) about the variety of support mechanisms available to students in FE colleges and about "unviable" school sixth forms are misguided and out-of-date. Unfortunately, such attitudes are shared by many who should know better and by others in depressingly powerful positions.

As head of a comprehensive in a neighbouring South Yorkshire metropolitan borough, I know why 75 per cent of our pupils in FE choose to stay with us, making a small but viable and effective sixth form in a competitive environment.

Our current 136 students are studying for 18 A-level and three general national vocational qualification courses without any subsidy whatsoever from the rest of the school, as a recent analysis clearly established.

We achieve this by talking with them all the time, from the age of 11, about what they want from life and how they might go about getting it. Most of all, they feel known and cared about, which is not quite the same thing as providing a "variety of support mechanisms". Our students already know the quality they can expect from us.

The idea that a viable range of quality courses is only available cost-effectively, within a large institution ignores the technological revolution. It is quite possible for small post-16 providers to network their provision co-operatively with the aid of video-conferencing and other links. We are doing it at Armthorpe right now and offering courses which could previously have been studied only in a large college. The post-16 future does not need to be bigger but smaller and more intelligent.

The sneer that "no doubt small sixth forms are popular with largely middle-class parents", is as confused as it is outdated. The ex-mining village of Armthorpe has been called many things, but rarely middle class. This area is full of people who know that high-quality education is the life and hope of their community. That is now a knowledge which cuts across classes and across the nation.

DAVID PEARMAIN Armthorpe comprehensive Mere Lane Armthorpe Doncaster South Yorkshire

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