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College sixth form is top class

New research on sixth-form colleges suggests they are highly effective at keeping school-leavers in education - even in urban areas. The survey suggests their image as academies for the bright offspring of the comfortably-off is wide of the mark.

The research, carried out by RCU Research on behalf of the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum, suggests they can perform well against school sixth-forms and general further education colleges. It looked at Greater Manchester, where there are 13 sixth-form colleges, and other urban areas where they are thinner on the ground.

Sue Witham, head of secretariat at the SFCF, wants to see new sixth-form colleges built in areas where they do not exist.

She said: "We looked at urban areas because some people think sixth-form colleges are just elitist places in the leafy suburbs, which they most certainly are not. We found that where sixth-form colleges are part of the structure you have improved staying-on rates. We believe there should be a sixth-form college within reasonable travelling distance for every student from the age of 16.

"Just as the Government wants people to have the option of school sixth-forms, we say there should be the option of a sixth-form college as well."

RCU's report says sixth-form colleges in Manchester have achievement and retention rates close to 90 per cent - compared with 70 per cent in general FE. A quarter of Greater Manchester's 16 to 18-year-old full-time students are in sixth-form colleges.

It shows that more than 30 per cent of college students are from areas of "relative deprivation", compared with 20 per cent in school sixth-forms and 40 per cent in general FE and work-based training.

Sixth-form colleges are "particularly good at recruiting learners of Asian heritage", according to the report, titled The Comparative Impact and Performance of Sixth Form Colleges. Sixth-form colleges and general FE have a higher proportion of ethnic minority learners than school sixth forms or work-based learning, it says.

Compared with general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges have "higher success rates across all the broad ethnic groupings".

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