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No sixth forms for academies

It would be hypocritical of colleges to oppose the new freedoms offered to academy schools. Few colleges now regret the sense of liberation incorporation brought us in 199293, apart from those which have disappeared. Freedom also means the freedom to fail.

But Mick Fletcher's challenge to school sixth-form inefficiencies ("One billion reasons to save on sixth forms", June 25) is apposite in the light of increasing demands to achieve savings. If academy status carries a sixth-form presumption, value for money can only be diminished. Efficient and successful institutions will find their intake reduced by the proliferation of new sixth forms. Astonishingly, the recent KPMG report The Age of Austerity did not mention the possibility of savings at sixth- form level.

Typically, outstanding sixth-form and tertiary colleges, and a number of general further education colleges, have strong links with local 11-16 schools. These guarantee good progression, sound advice and orderly transition arrangements.

But there will be some headteachers who see staying on post-16 as a means of protecting staff jobs. This has already happened, despite the opposition of local councils and existing providers.

In general, a new sixth form presents a limited range of A-levels to retain its most able and least troublesome students. Widening participation is rarely on the agenda. The result is that choice of institution is increased but choice of course or programme is reduced, as a college faced with a drop in demand starts to trim its marginal courses. These might well include vocational programmes below level 3 - the very area where there remains potential for increasing post-16 and post-17 participation.

Where post-16 provision is regarded as poor by local schools, new provision may be required to fill the gap and raise standards. If this provision is planned collaboratively, both quality and value for money can advance together. But the presumption option will not lead to sixth-form consortia, new sixth-form colleges or tertiary colleges, but a duplication of existing course offerings and its division into smaller units. Data presented to the House of Commons shows the strong link between efficient large institutions and high quality.

So we would expect to see Government enforce a collaborative review of provision before allowing new sixth forms, otherwise new inefficiencies will emerge and Education Secretary Michael Gove's expectations that new academies will not "fracture the culture of collaboration which has driven school improvement" will be disappointed.

New academies? Yes But new sixth forms? No, unless you want poor value for money, modest standards of achievement and reduced course choice.

Nigel Robbins, Principal, Cirencester College amp; Tertiary Colleges Group.

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