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Sixth-form sense for Sir Cyril

I am afraid Sir Cyril Taylor (TES, February 18) follows the approach of the Department for Education and Skills' five-year strategy in basing his arguments for creating new sixth forms on assertion rather than evidence or logic.

He highlights the relatively poor participation rate of 16 and 17-year olds in full-time education in England. DfES statistics, however, show almost all those who gain five GCSEs at grade A* to C already stay on. Therefore, an increase in participation requires more provision post-16 at level 2.

More level 3 provision will, in most cases, simply mean existing participants changing location. And yet it is the level of work that most schools surely have in mind when they want a new sixth form.

Although there are honourable exceptions, most sixth forms only make token provision below level 3. Even though nearly half of all 16-year-olds do not gain the five GCSEs at grades A* to C usually required for entry to level 3, the sixth forms of maintained schools provide only 22 per cent of England's level 2 provision. Sixth-form colleges are even worse, with 7 per cent, but general FE colleges provide more than 70 per cent. Sir Cyril admits school sixth forms cost some 15 per cent more than colleges for similar provision.

If LSCs are forced to agree to new sixth forms, then there will be even less money available to FE colleges and others who are the main providers post-16 of level 2, which is the provision that needs to be increased and improved.

In other words, "choice of institution" can be code for "choice by institution", and may actually reduce curricular choice.

Geoff Stanton

Visiting fellow

University of Greenwich School of Education and Training

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