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Principal resigns over cash battle

College courses face the axe as school opens sixth form in competition. A principal has resigned in protest at the decision to allow a school sixth form to open near her college.

The Sixth Form College Solihull says the range of courses it runs may have to be reduced and it could be forced into a war for students to maintain its funding - potentially bringing it into competition with other colleges in the West Midlands.

The decison to allow a sixth form at nearby Arden School was taken by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in line with the Government's policy of "presumption" in favour of suitable schools expanding into 16-19.

Colleen Chater, the college principal, said she has notified governors of her decision to step down because she believes the development is against the interests of teenagers in the borough.

Mrs Chater said the intake from Arden - 8 per cent of its 2,500 students - has achieved a 99.3 per cent A-level pass rate.

To reduce the damage, she says governors could be forced into an aggressive marketing strategy which involves providing transport to bring students in from further afield. Her departure will not take effect until she has helped governors through the process of finding a replacement.

She said: "I feel this decision by the council has reduced my ability to do the job. If you take half a million to a million pounds out of my budget, that means I need to cut provision or recruit students from elsewhere. What has happened is not in the interests of the young people of the borough."

The college spends pound;429,000 per year in loan payments over a 20-year period as a result of a pound;10million investment in accommodation. It says some of this space could become redundant if student numbers fall.

The college offers 42 subjects including Latin, further mathematics and psychology and is the only centre in the area offering Russian and Italian - courses which Mrs Chater says could be lost if it is forced to make cuts. Schools minister Lord Adonis sent a letter of congratulation to the school, which says it remains convinced the move is in the interests of pupils.

Ann Green, head of Arden, said the school already teaches more than 100 post-16s in collaboration with another school and insisted competition would ensure high-quality provision for teenagers.

"I didn't invent the policy," she said, "but I believe it will improve the quality of learning for all of our children."

She said half her pupils leave the borough as parents take them elsewhere for their post-16 education or put them into private schools - a position which would be improved with a new sixth form.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, backed Arden's bid for a sixth form in 2005. At the time, it had been refused permission to expand into A-levels despite its language specialism and reputation as a high-performing school.

The Association of Colleges says some schools with sixth forms have failed to provide pupils with impartial advice about the other options - meaning many stay outside the FE system by default.

The new Education and Inspections Bill creates a legal duty to give impartial advice.

Leading article, page 4.

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