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College celebrates academy successes

The first college to take control of two city academies has seen exam success rates double and treble respectively in less than a year.

Barnfield College began sponsoring two once failing schools nearby in Luton, Bedfordshire, last autumn, forming a federation with Barnfield South Academy and Barnfield West Academy, renamed to underline their association with the college, which boasts an outstanding Ofsted rating.

In the first set of exam results since the takeover, the South has seen the numbers achieving five good GCSEs, including maths and English, jump from 17 per cent to 36 per cent, while at the West Academy they rose from 16 per cent to 48 per cent, bringing it close to the national average.

Pete Birkett, chief executive of the college and chairman of the academies, said the involvement of the FE college in the 11-16 schools had been crucial because it meant pupils had a clear progression: the college has pledged to offer a place on a suitable course to every academy student.

In the past, about a third of students would become Neets (not in education, employment or training). Now, says Mr Birkett, every student has applied for a place at college or sixth form. He is confident that more than 95 per cent will start courses this month.

In return, the college benefited by expanding its potential pool of students by including the 30 per cent who in the past went missing.

He said the Barnfield model offers a chance for successful colleges to create a completely coherent local 14-19 system under their direction. "The college is now able to work with children in schools from the age of 11. It makes it a natural progression for them," he said.

"We used to see 30 per cent of students disappear, but because we have tripled GCSE results, those kids now have the chance to go on to sixth- form college or FE.

"I am speaking to lots of principals now who are interested in doing the same thing, and the Government is encouraging other FE colleges to do that."

As a result, ministers have made the sponsorship process easier, with colleges no longer needing to invest Pounds 2 million in the new academies, as Barnfield did when it took over.

Other changes the college has made at the academies are in clear contrast to the relaxed disciplinary code common in FE. Uniforms were introduced, and paid for by the school. Pupils were banned from leaving the premises during the day, improving relations with the neighbours and cutting truancy in the afternoons.

Mr Birkett said: "At school we want to make sure they are looked after, managed and monitored properly. Then, when they progress to college or sixth form, they will know how to behave."

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