School heads fear 'hidden agenda'

21st September 2001 at 01:00
GOVERNMENT plans to reform post-16 education and training contain a "hidden agenda" to speed-up the closure of small sixth forms, headteacher leaders insisted this week.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris today unveils the first stage of consultations on the White Paper. She will spell-out Government intentions to extend the powers of the Learning and Skills Council to put forward proposals to reorganise post-16 provision in an area.

Currently, the council is restricted by the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which allows it to make proposals about "inadequate LEA-maintained sixth-form provision" where the chief inspector of OFSTED has issued two consecutive adverse reports.

But, under planned legislation, the council can call for reforms "in certain specific circumstances" other than the bad reports from OFSTED. This includes evidence from institutional reports on students' achievement or participation rates.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This will reinforce fears in schools that there is a hidden agenda to eliminate small sixth-forms. This will allow closure not based on the quality of courses but where they are regarded in LSC terms as uneconomic."

College leaders publicly welcomed the wider White Paper proposals. A spokeswoman for the Association of Colleges said: "Much of what the Government intends is a freeing-up of 14-19 education and training in a way we have long been calling for." However, college leaders are understood to be concerned that the extension of LSC powers could give undue and adverse central control.

Local education authority leaders say that the powers they would lose under the proposal are compensated by the extra powers they gain to open new post-16 institutions. But, they accept that the proposals are likely to cause a "frisson" among school heads.

Miss Morris said the concerns of young people had to come before those of institutions. "For too many young people, the 14-19 age range has been a period of falling engagement in learning and rising disaffection. Many serious attempts to change this have failed."

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