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Sixth-form battle launched

Sir Cyril Taylor accuses 16-plus quango of ignoring ministers. Michael Shaw reports.

An influential government adviser has accused the quango that funds 16-plus education of stopping successful schools from acquiring sixth forms.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, says the Learning and Skills Council is defying the Government by rejecting schools'

plans to teach A-levels.

The attack is an opening salvo in a tussle between schools and colleges for students, which comes days before ministers unveil their white paper on 14 to 19 education.

The Government's five-year plan last year said that it wanted to make it easier for successful specialist schools to get sixth forms and that there should be a "strong presumption" to approve them. The Prime Minister said this week that one of Labour's main pledges would be to provide more than 100,000 extra sixth-form places in schools and colleges.

Ministers and Sir Cyril believe creating more school-based sixth forms will be popular with parents and offer students more choice.

But further education leaders and some local authorities say small sixth-forms will be unable to offer students the wide range of courses available in colleges.

Sir Cyril, whose trust represents two-thirds of secondaries, writes in today's TES that some of the LSC's local offices are ignoring Government policy by refusing to back new sixth-forms.

He said the Government's promise to let more successful schools teach A-levels had been welcome news for the 1,300 English secondaries without sixth-forms. "Sadly the policy does not seem to have been accepted by some local education authorities and local offices of the Learning and Skills Council," he said.

Sir Cyril said that examples of cases where local skills councils had acted in "clear conflict" with the Government included Arden school in Solihull, a high-performing language college. The school recently had an application rejected to teach A-level courses in a consortium with another school.

Sir Cyril said: "Surely decision- makers in the LSCs should accept there should be a choice of post-16 provision. Some 16-year-olds will do better with the greater pastoral care provided by schools, especially as so many FE and sixth-form colleges are now large institutions with thousands of students."

The Department for Education and Skills said that the sixth form provision had not come into effect yet. Final guidance will be published after the 14-to-19 white paper.

The West Midlands LSC said it could not have accepted Arden's application without prior agreement from the local schools organisation committee which co-ordinates admissions.

Solihull council, which has one of the highest staying-on rates in England post-16, runs two "collegiates", made up of its 14 secondaries, an FE college, two school-based sixth forms, and a sixth- form college.

Kevin Crompton, Solihull's director of education and social services, said he hoped the Government's final guidance would not allow schools to set up sixth forms where it would disrupt successful local arrangements.

The Secondary Heads Association said some secondaries found it "irksome" not to have sixth forms, but that teenagers' education was usually better served if decisions about sixth forms were made by the LSC.

Knowsley, which only has sixth forms at two of its 11 second-ary schools, this week became the first authority to be rated as outstanding by inspectors for 14 to 19 education.

News 2, Platform 21, Leader 22, FEFOCUS 3

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