Post-16 study could be delivered on a human scale to nurture low achievers. Nicolas Barnard and Frances Rafferty report
EVEN today, Hammersmith and Fulham officials and heads don't understand why John Patten refused permission for their new sixth-form college in 1991.
The need was certainly there: the newly-created education authority had found a huge consensus that existing school sixth forms were too small to offer real choice to students who often had poor GCSEs. Six heads had offered to give up their sixth forms - jealously guarded by most schools - to form a single college, the William Morris Academy.
The building was there too. Councillors had already voted to spend pound;1 million converting an empty Victorian school, knowing that looming changes to the FE system would mean handing it over to the Further Education Funding Council at the very moment it opened its doors.
Even the principal had been shortlisted. So council and heads took a different but, they believed, legal tack: they set up their own joint college, run by a third party, the LEA.
Since then, the academy has gone from strength to strength.
Numbers are up - the roll is now 630 and reflects the full range of achievement, including many students returning to the borough after rejecting its secondary schools at 11. Results are improving. Some who arrive with no GCSEs go on to university.
"The success is because it's a truly comprehensive college and delivers equally across the ability range," director of education Christine Whatford said.
The academy stresses pastoral care and inclusion. All staff - from principal Liz Walton down - have a tutor group, and all teachers must take the full ability range and run vocational and academic courses. Ms Walton says the attractions are the relatively small size (contrasting with the average FE college) and the independence of attending a college.
"In the inner city, an awful lot of young people need to find a home in their education. We have refugees, kids that have been kicked out of home; they face huge problems and we offer somewhere that's stable and supportive enough to enable them to achieve."