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Edinburgh abandons sixth-form showpiece

The idea of importing sixth-form colleges into Scotland is almost certainly dead. Edinburgh, the authority most likely to embrace the initiative, decided last week to ditch it.

A showpiece college, once a gleam in the eye of Elizabeth Maginnis, the city's education convener, has been ruled out because of its cost and its likely effect on secondary schools which would be robbed of their brightest pupils.

Mrs Maginnis, whose vision was of a flagship challenger to the city's strong independent sector, said last week the authority would now consult on the best way to deliver the new Advanced Higher when it is introduced from August next year.

Roy Jobson, Edinburgh's director of education, said: "There is not sufficient justification to choose a radically different model of provision for Advanced Highers."

A separate college, whose proposed base was the former Royal High School, would have incurred capital expenditure of up to pound;13 million to adapt the building and running costs of pound;800,000 a year for just 700 pupils.

The education committee agreed instead to opt for a "virtual college" under the working title of a centre for educational studies. This would use distance learning to provide tutorial support, particularly in minority subjects.

The decision was welcomed by the teaching unions which, along with secondary heads, had vigorously opposed a sixth-form college as a threat to comprehensive education and to the viability of existing schools. "I like the way the policy is going," George Rubienski, teachers' representative, told the committee. "The loss of sixth-year pupils would have been a significant blow to schools."

Mr Rubienski pointed out that schools were already successfully dealing with the problem of delivering sixth-year courses to small groups of pupils.

A key feature of the project will be involvement by university lecturers to support teaching. Mrs Maginnis said the council wanted Advanced Higher courses to be developed in line with first-year university courses so that honours degrees could be completed in three years rather than four. Paul Williamson, the city's education vice-convener, said that another objective was to encourage more pupils to go on to further and higher education.

Edinburgh's decision means the search continues for another use for the former Royal High, the abandoned home of the Scottish parliament.

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