One in four sixth-form colleges converting to become academies

Expected wave of academy conversions by sixth-form colleges has yet to materialise, new figures from the Department for Education suggest

Will Martin

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Next week’s Budget speech by chancellor Philip Hammond will mark two years since his predecessor, George Osborne, made an announcement with far-reaching repercussions for post-16 education.

Sixth-form colleges would, Osborne’s 2015 autumn Budget speech revealed, finally be allowed to give up their status as incorporated colleges to return to the schools sector by becoming academies. It was seen as a major incentive for cash-strapped colleges, and many in the sector predicted a wave of conversions after Mr Osborne’s announcement.

But figures obtained by Tes reveal that, to date, far fewer colleges have gone ahead with academy conversion than had been predicted.

According to the Department for Education, 17 colleges have converted so far, with nine more having submitted a formal application. If these colleges all complete the process, this would equate to just over a quarter of England’s 93 sixth-form colleges. But Sixth Form Colleges Association chief executive Bill Watkin said the number of converters is “gradually rising”.

'Significant time and effort'

“The process has been rigorous and has required significant time and effort,” he said. “However, there are more colleges waiting in the pipeline and they will benefit from the lessons learned so far. It is important that more colleges are now better placed to make a bigger impact on the wider system, but also that, whether academies or not, all sixth-form colleges continue to be a united and close family of 16-19 specialist experts.”

The Maple Group, which represents high-performing sixth-form colleges including Hills Road, Peter Symonds and Winstanley colleges, has been dubbed the “Russell Group” of the sector. Chair Simon Jarvis is principal of The Sixth Form College Farnborough, which on 1 September converted and formed The Prospect Trust, its own multi-academy trust, which he hopes will extend to include primary and secondary schools. This, Jarvis said, will “provide a structure for partner institutions to work more closely, share best practice and achieve synergies and efficiencies”.

He added: “The ability to join the larger and growing academy sector provides potentially more opportunities and benefits than would be available if we were to remain as part of a shrinking sixth-form college sector."

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said his organisation welcomed colleges’ right to decide whether to convert. He said: “The organisation type is not as important as the sector working together. This has been demonstrated with AoC working with the SFCA, the Association of School and College Leaders and others to fight for fairer funding for 16- to 18-year-olds."

This is an edited version of an article in the 17 November edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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