Sixth forms feel heat

Post-16 shake-up in Denbighshire raises closure fears after poor inspection

RHYL IS the latest place in Wales to face the prospect of sixth-form closures as Denbighshire considers a shake-up of post-16 education.

Coleg Llandrillo, which has invested pound;4 million in its site in the seaside town this year, could replace two sixth forms.

But the education authority insists that no decision will be made until a consultation takes place next month.

However, the case for Rhyl's sixth forms was undermined last week when Estyn put Blessed Edward Jones RC high school in special measures.

The inspection agency said A-level results were significantly below average and it could see no sign of any improvement.

Julian Molloy, senior education officer responsible for secondary schools, said there were no plans to close the school and refused to be drawn on its sixth form.

He said: "We're looking at a closer working relationship between the two high schools and further education.

"Whether we close the sixth form or not will come out in the next month or so."

According to a spokesman for the Welsh Assembly government, school sixth-form closures are a likely option.

He said: "There was a previous plan for adult learning centres in two sixth forms, but there's a recommendation that there should be a single site.

"The town has two small sixth forms and a college trying to expand provision."

The Assembly government wants to keep more teenagers in education by broadening the choice of courses, as well as using resources more efficiently.

Under the "pathfinder" pilots, there are already plans to replace eight sixth forms in Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent with central colleges.

Coleg Llandrillo's principal Huw Evans said he was developing the Rhyl site as a "major post-16 centre".

"I can't comment on the sixth-form plans, but we're making sure that we're developing our provision as a beacon presence for the coast," he said.

The heads of both Rhyl high schools declined to comment.

The changes in Rhyl are part of a wider re-think of adult learning in Denbighshire, which has taken a similar approach to the pathfinder pilots.

In these there are three main proposals: closer collaboration between learning providers; formal partnerships; or the replacement of sixth forms with a central institution.

Significant changes are considered crucial in Denbighshire, a county which performs poorly in the value-added tables and struggles with its geography - an urban, coastal strip and a sparsely populated rural hinterland.

Outside Rhyl, the LEA has embraced partnership, securing pound;4.2m from the Assembly and the European Union to develop three learning centres in Prestatyn, Ruthin and Llangollen.

Bilingual provision will be developed in the south-west of the county at Ysgol Dinas Bran, Llangollen, while general and vocational courses will be provided at Ysgol Brynhyfryd, in Ruthin.

A third centre will be built at Prestatyn high school. All three are expected to be up and running by March 2008.

In all cases, the schools will be expected to work closely with Coleg Llandrillo and Coleg Llysfasi in Ruthin.

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