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College to fight for control of sixth form

Plans for an independent FE centre in Sheffield have divided the college and council. Joe Clancy reports

A bitter battle for control of a new sixth-form centre planned for Sheffield is likely to result in defeat for the city's premier further education college.

A ruling is due next month on whether the centre will be run by Sheffield College, or will be governed by the city council.

Sheffield College has mounted fierce opposition to plans for developing an independent sixth-form college in the deprived north east of the city, where post-16 staying-on rates are low.

John Taylor, the college's principal, argued that the new centre for 900 students should be run under its own federated structure.

He is understood to have told a meeting of the local learning and skills council that to have a separate college would seriously undermine its own education services, cutting across courses and affecting staffing.

He came into conflict with the city's director of education, Jonathan Crossley-Holland, over the direction of 16 to 19 education in the south Yorkshire city.

Both men presented their cases to the South Yorkshire learning and skills council in April.

Mr Taylor focused on the college's federated structure, its involvement with computing developments, and how its image and relations with schools and the community were improving.

Mr Crossley-Holland emphasised the regeneration of the area and the amount of local support for the independent model, including from the feeder schools, universities and parents.

The LSC decided in favour of the Mr Crossley-Holland, and has published a local consultation document, with a deadline of the end of next week. Members expressed hope that both parties would work together once the decision was made.

But the college has already taken steps to fight the plans.

It has commissioned a survey from consultants Bentley Jennison on the damaging impact of this new 16 to 19 provider.

Ken Franklyn, the college's chair of governors, said: "Clearly, the development and planning to arrive at the right solution for FE in the north of the city have at times been complex in bringing together a number of different points of views and agendas.

"However, the governors and directorate of the Sheffield College remain fully committed to an on-going dialogue and co-operation in making a major contribution to the much-needed regeneration of this part of the city."

Schools in north-east Sheffield back an independent college. John Leam, head of Parkwood high, a Fresh Start school, said: "The provision of Sheffield College has not been good enough to meet the needs of our students.

"The 11 to 16 schools in this part of the city have really moved forward and standards have started to improve. But the missing part was high-quality post-16 education with direct links to the schools."

Steve Robinson, head of Chaucer high school, said: "There seems to be a general recognition that a pan-Sheffield provision has not worked. The need for the north and the north-east is A-levels and that has not been there."

The conflict could be a taste of things to come with plans for sixth-form centres in other parts of the UK, announced last week by Education Secretary Estelle Morris.

A row has already erupted in Hackney, east London. Questions were asked in the House of Commons over a dispute which followed the LSC forcing Hackney College to vacate a building to make way for a sixth-form centre due to open in September. Disputes are also forecast over planned sixth-form centres in Greenwich and Islington, London; Knowsley, Merseyside and Newcastle.

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