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'Independent schools are scared of high-achieving sixth-form colleges'

Jonathan Godfrey, chair of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association and principal of Hereford Sixth Form College, writes: 

"Last week, David Levin, head of the independent City of London School, said that all schools should have a sixth form, effectively calling for sixth-form colleges to be scrapped. 

The inevitable result of this would be the establishment of a large number of financially unviable and poor quality small sixth forms, which would seek to duplicate provision already delivered by the highly-regarded sixth-form college sector. 

This proposal, as told to the Daily Telegraph, smacks of fear rather than a genuine desire to improve the prospects of students in the state sector.

There is a long tradition of pupils leaving independent schools to enter local maintained sixth-form colleges, which offer a wider curriculum, better results and an environment as a half-way house between school and university – excellent preparation for ultimately leaving home.

As the "double whammy" of falling rolls and the recession start to impact on the independent sector, it is no surprise that a high-profile independent-school head should endeavour to stifle the competition. 

All objective analysis of post-16 education suggests sixth-form colleges are the top performers. The National Audit Office report of 2012 on the education of 16 to 18-year-olds stated that “sixth-form colleges perform best on most measures of learner achievement”. 

And research published by the University of Southampton in 2012 concluded: “Students at sixth-form colleges are significantly more likely to achieve top grades at A level than those who stay on at schools. Due to their specialised nature, sixth-form colleges have developed high levels of expertise”. 

The most recently-published data on value added show that many sixth-form colleges outperform independent schools on this measure. Hereford Sixth Form College’s value-added score in the Department for Education’s performance tables is significantly higher than its neighbour, Hereford Cathedral School, and higher than Mr Levin’s City of London School, which charges annual fees of £13,800. Peter Symonds, a state sixth-form college in Winchester, similarly outperforms its neighbour, Winchester College.

In 2012, as chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, David Levin said: “Good state sixth-form colleges could become very attractive to fee paying parents.”

Three years on and he is clearly fearful this is already happening."

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