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Sixth-forms fight to stop closures

Hastings' heads refuse to surrender to new college plans after similar bid fails in Carlisle. Joe Clancy reports

A rearguard action has been mounted in the two-year battle over who best provides post-16 education in the south coast town of Hastings.

The attack was launched by the Learning and Skills Council, which wants to scrap school sixth-forms and replace them with one large further education college to serve the Hastings and Rother area.

The LSC appeared to be heading for victory when the proposals were given the go ahead by East Sussex county council. The council's cabinet recommended approval of the scheme last month.

But local headteachers and the principal of a sixth-form college - also due to be scrapped - are refusing to surrender saying that they will continue to fight the closures.

They are buoyed by victory in the battle of Carlisle, where similar plans to replace school sixth-forms with an FE college were abandoned in February.

Derek Greenup, head of William Parker school, said this week: "We have a successful sixth-form and we are incandescent about the plans to close it.

"There is a statutory process that must be applied and we feel there are flaws in that process. We may seek a judicial review.

"Whatever happens, the protest will go on."

Karen Hucker, principal at Bexhill sixth-form college, said: "The proposals will have a detrimental effect on our students and the local area. We are going to continue to resist the plan.

"We have raised strong concerns from the outset. We remain unconvinced that the proposals will increase participation or improve retention and achievement."

Parents, pupils and staff have already staged vociferous protests at several public meetings. At one, Henry Ball, director of the LSC's South-east region, faced fierce heckling.

The Sixth Form Colleges Forum has also mounted fierce opposition to the plans.

Sue Witham, head of the forum's secretariat, said: "Past experience has shown that when a sixth-form college merges with FE, it isn't as popular with parents or students."

The LSC says the new college will consist of a family of four colleges, each with local governance structures but with all four being part of a single, unified institution for the area.

It will replace Bexhill sixth-form college and Hastings college of arts and technology, which will both be dissolved. The sixth-forms from five local schools will be removed. In their place there will be four colleges in Battle, Bexhill, Hastings and St Leonards, operating under the umbrella of a new over-arching corporation, Hastings and Rother New College.

Each college would be in newly-built premises, involving a cash investment of pound;53 million.

The LSC maintains that "the revolutionary college structure will see truly world-class learning offered to students and adult learners" and will bring "academic and training excellence to Hastings and Rother".

Norman Boyland, chairman of Sussex LSC, said: "Too many students have left school or college with low achievements and limited career opportunities.

Our proposals for change are radical, and we make absolutely no apology for that.

"We realise that heads and teachers at some of the schools have concerns about the changes. We will work closely with them over the coming months and years to demonstrate that our proposals will bring real and long-lasting benefits to the area."

He said schools will be given a greater input into the decision-making of the new college through the formation of a tertiary board.

The proposals will go before the LSC's national reorganisation committee at the end of this month, and a second consultation will take place in the autumn.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, will make the final decision in December. If he approves the plan, work will start on the re-organisation next spring.

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