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Single college, multiple choice

Five schools likely to lose sixth forms after report shows students' needs are not being met. Steve Hook reports

FIVE school sixth-forms could be replaced with a single college under plans being considered in Cumbria.

The idea has come out of consultations with schools following a review of education in Carlisle, carried out by Jim Donaldson, the former chief inspector of post-16.

Cumbria's post-16 provision has been under review since the creation of the Learning and Skills Council in 2001 under the quango's local executive director Mick Farley and chairman Rob Cairns.

Already, the county's four further education colleges are facing merger to maximise their cost-effectiveness by removing duplicated administration.

An LSC spokesman said the review "provided irrefutable evidence that the learning needs of each and every young person in the Carlisle area are not being fully met".

It is proposed that the five town-centre sixth-forms should close. These are at North Cumbria Technical College, Newman school, Trinity school, Morton school and St Aidan's school.

Two other schools - Caldew in Dalston and William Howard in Brampton - are more than five miles from the town centre and would retain their sixth-forms.

Mr Farley said: "The council has a vision of a learning campus with excellent transport links on a city-centre site made up of the well-equipped sixth-form college working closely with nearby schools and the vocational college of further education.

"These would share first-class facilities in an area which would include other services such as health and libraries with the campus closely associated with university-level development in the city. The local LSC regards such a vision as not only exciting but entirely realisable over a period of time."

The staying-on rate for school pupils at 16 in Carlisle is 74.4 per cent, compared with the national average of 86.5 per cent, according to Connexions, the advice service for young people.

A report by Cumbria LSC, based on the review, says: "The problem of low participation rates in post-16 education in Carlisle is compounded by the higher leaving rates for students between 16 and 17.

"Leaving rates for students in lower sixth-forms in Carlisle are much higher than the average (13 per cent) for the rest of the country. At the end of the 20012 teaching year, almost 23 per cent of young people left school lower sixth-forms in Cumbria.

"The high numbers call into question the degree to which young people at end of Year 11 are placed on suitable courses."

Cumbria LSC believes a single college would provide a wider range of courses, increasing the choices, and therefore the staying-on rates, available to school-leavers.

Plans for the new sixth-form college will be published in detail in the autumn.

The city is also covered by Carlisle College and Cumbria Institute of the Arts.

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