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Sixth-form completes the jigsaw

Students will have a say on everything from computers to catering when they meet the designers of Longley Park, a new sixth-form college, in north-east Sheffield.

Year 10 students at Firth Park community arts college, part of the first intake in September 2004, are enthusiastic. "It's good to have a college being built. It will be closer to home so we won't have to travel all round Sheffield. More of our friends will go to the same sixth form, so we will know more people and settle in quicker."

There has been little interest in post-16 education in this deprived part of the city. In the days of coal and steel it was easy for school-leavers to get jobs, but when that employment collapsed, there was no tradition of staying on for further qualifications. A partial tertiary reorganisation in the 1980s closed the sixth forms, leaving more ambitious parents to migrate to the remaining 11-18 schools on the south-west of town.

Steve Robinson, head of Chaucer high school, says: "It's not an area that tended to value education and they don't like going across the city."

Regeneration money has already gone into the north of the city, and Councillor Angela Smith, the cabinet member for education, believes the college will be "the final piece in the jigsaw".

She says: "The provision of a good sixth-form college working with Sheffield University will make all the difference. If children know they're going to a college connected with the university, they will believe there will be a place for them at that level," Longley Park will be run as an independent corporation, despite Sheffield FE College's claim to make it part of its own federated structure. South Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council opted for the city council plan, which had the support of a consultation exercise and MP David Blunkett.

It will be built on a disused school site with pound;10.5 million from the learning and skills council and is being designed by Ellis Williams Associates, acclaimed for Gateshead's Baltic Gallery. Most of its 900 students will come from seven local schools.

A transition tutor will work with the present Year 10 students to make the move to Key Stage 5 as seamless as possible.

Steve Robinson at Chaucer believes the whole district is ready to move. "The area is feeling important again. That makes the community feel valued and helps raise aspirations in families."

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