Over-16s merger blocked

5th August 2005 at 01:00
Ministers have blocked a pioneering plan to provide education for all over-16s in one institution because they are afraid of public anger over the closure of sixth forms.

The decision to rein in the mass merger of FE, school sixth forms and a sixth-form college near Hastings is a victory for the parents, teachers and college staff who opposed the move.

But it leaves the Learning and Skills Council struggling to turn the ministers' cherrypicking into a viable plan for a part of East Sussex where students are being failed.

Rob Wye, director of strategy and communications at the LSC, said: "We have been sent away to make it a coherent plan.

"There is a local recognition that something has to be done. Provision is poor and young people are being let down."

The average A-level student in a Hastings school sixth form scores just 176 points, compared to 269 nationally.

Results are getting worse and the LSC says the 7 per cent of students out of education, employment or training is too many. A further 10 per cent travel out of the area for education.

As a result, the LSC wanted to merge all six school sixth forms, Bexhill sixth-form college and Hastings college of art and technology into one institution, spread across four sites. But ministers said Bexhill college was popular and successful, with potential for improvement, and should not be closed.

They also ordered that William Parker school and Helenswood school continue to provide sixth-form education.

Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, said: "Bexhill college is a popular and locally successful institution and I believe improvements can be made without this administrative change."

Helenswood and William Parker schools are also "popular with parents and students", she said.

Sue Dare, acting director of 14-19 for the LSC in Sussex, said the wholesale merger was intended to provide a wider choice of vocational subjects and to attract the pound;53 million of capital needed.

It was too early to say whether the minister's revised plan would be viable, she said.

Mr Wye denied the ministerial decision was a setback for the national Strategic Area Review process.

He said the reviews were not being published separately, but would influence planning in each region. For example, in Birmingham and West Sussex, new vocational centres were being planned following the reviews, he said.

Demand for more vocational provision was the most significant theme to emerge, Mr Wye said.

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