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A gaping hole in the level playing field

Our sixth-form college has, for many years, worked to widen our students' horizons, and recently we have had the pleasure of seeing 10 of our students gain places at Oxbridge.

Now all the progress we have made is under threat of being unravelled. Funding for 16-18 education faces severe cuts that will damage educational entitlement and equality of opportunity, just as young people face greater competition for employment, as well as the daunting prospect of much higher fees.

These crucial years, when students are taking their A-levels, offer the last systematic opportunity to level the playing field between the 7 per cent of students educated in the independent sector and the vast majority from less privileged backgrounds. These funding cuts therefore strike at the heart of opportunity for all and will leave not only our educational system but our society and future economy the poorer for it.

Education secretary Michael Gove argues passionately that the sort of high-quality, broad-based, academic curriculum that is a hallmark of our provision should be freely available to all. But these proposals for 16-18 funding in schools and colleges, along with the abolition of education maintenance allowances and the likely removal of other local support mechanisms such as post-16 transport, constitute a threat so severe that it could set us back half a century and take us down a dangerous path towards a "two-tier" education system.

Andrew Jones, Principal, Sir John Deane's College, Northwich, Cheshire.

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