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Let colleges become academies, says influential Tory MP

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Sixth-form colleges should be free to convert to academy status to allow them to force closer links with the schools sector, according to the chair of an influential parliamentary committee.

Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, told TES that colleges should be allowed to convert to academy status. There is currently no mechanism in place for institutions to make the transition.

In June, members of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA) voted to cultivate closer links with the schools sector and explore the possibility of ­institutions converting to academy or free school status.

But despite the SFCA calling for colleges to be able to convert, there has been little political will to tackle the issue to date. Unlike schools, colleges are forced to pay VAT, with the average bill standing at £335,000 per year. And while the 5-16 schools budget has been protected since 2010, colleges have had four successive years of funding cuts, leading to complaints that they have been ignored by the government.

But Mr Carmichael said that in yesterday’s Commons debate on FE funding, skills minister Nick Boles had been “very interested” in the proposal.

“It could be a good idea for them to have the capacity to become academies themselves,” he told TES. “I’ve been hearing more about the advantages in terms of public expenditure, so I think it’s got a lot going for it. But the reality is that if you believe that multi-academy trusts are a good thing, which I do, then the natural place for a sixth-form college to fit is in that structure.”

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