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Colleges to take over sixth forms

Manchester schools need help in curbing post-16 drop-out rates, reports Ian Nash

Education chiefs in Manchester have asked further education colleges to take control of sixth-form studies throughout schools in the most deprived areas of the city.

The move to tackle appallingly high drop-out rates has been pioneered by Roy Jobson, Manchester's chief education officer and president of the Association of Chief Education officers. It is certain to be seized as a model of local authority and FE co-operation as schools struggle to arrest drop-out rates and colleges look for new ways of recruiting students.

The decision of the council to forge a new alliance with the colleges follows a one-year experiment which has seen post-16 stay-on rates rise from 46 to 52 per cent. Manchester has persistently suffered some of the worst drop-out rates in the UK.

The decision to allow colleges to run a range of sixth forms and post-16 centres in the secondary schools has the backing of the Further Education Funding Council, which will foot the bill. It is welcomed by headteachers who do not have the resources to run sixth forms, Manchester College of Arts and Technology has just completed a one-year trial running sixth forms in three schools which are not big enough to sustain their own.

Now the neighbouring City College Manchester is to run new-style post-16 centres at two schools - South Manchester High School and Poundswick High School - both in the economically deprived area of Wythenshawe.

Studies carried out independently by the college and the city council show that low-achieving pupils often leave school because courses they might take are not available. They then drop out altogether as they find FE colleges too intimidating.

Dave Gibson, principal of City College, said: "It is this difficult transition that leads to high drop-out rates." Such pupils might feel more comfortable working in school with staff they knew.

Initially the college will provide general national vocational courses at intermediate level in art and design and BTEC first diplomas in the performing arts for students who want to progress to a higher level but may fight shy of college. The post-16 centre at South Manchester High is planned as a specialist centre for the arts.

City staff will be helped by school staff who have volunteered to take part in pilot projects. Students will be able to use all City College's resources.

Dave Gibson added: "This is also about widening participation as called for in the Kennedy report - going out to target people who do not participate at all."

Mr Jobson said: "It is a pioneering approach, not tied to bureaucratic structures but taking education to where individuals need it."

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