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Sixth-form considers alternative to closure

Governors at a Birmingham sixth-form college have been told to examine five new options to keep it open.

The Further Education Funding Council has presented governors at St Philip's RC Sixth-Form College with a five-point plan amid concern that a previous governing body failed to take adequate steps towards saving the institution which is scheduled for closure in August 1996.

The intervention by the FEFC follows the publication of a report into the running of St Philip's by Sir John Caines last November, which found the decision to close was "seriously flawed and a major example of bad governance and management". The report also questioned the legality of such a move.

It is understood that the acting principal, Peter McFadyen, and the governors' chairman, Geoff Jones, were called to a meeting with FEFC officials last week, where the options were presented to them.

The council is anxious for St Philip's to start recruiting students for two-year courses from this September.

The first option, believed to be the one favoured by the FEFC, is to "downsize" the college, by reducing the number of students but admitting a greater proportion of Catholics.

The lack of Catholics at the college - currently there are just 120 among 700 students - is the main reason the governors sought closure in the first place.

Another option is to create a new college by establishing a corporation to run it on the existing site for at least two years, or to leave the present site and reopen on a new one, also with new governors.

The third option would involve leasing the buildings to another college as an annexe, which may become known as the St Philip's Sixth-Form Centre and would retain a Catholic ethos, or to merge the institution with a university as a provider of access or foundation courses.

Mr Jones sees all but the first option as feasible. He said: "We are willing to discuss the issue, however, to date we are not clear whether any of these plans actually have the backing of the FEFC even though they have suggested them.

"The whole situation is very much up in the air and quite confusing at the moment." The governing body was due to meet on Thursday as The TES was going to press.

However, Mr Jones said representatives from the FEFC would be invited to the meeting as observers and he would not rule out the possibility that the governors would vote to rescind the previous closure decision.

Graham Jones, head of the West Midlands regional office of the FEFC, said the governors were not being forced to examine the options available to keep the college open, but in the light of the Caines Report officials suggested they might want to reconsider their previous decision.

"We are conscious of the fact that this is not the same governing body that made the original decision to close," he said.

He added that the FEFC would also be willing to consider other options proposed by the govenors themselves.

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