Seven go on a learning spree

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
If the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council wants evidence of how small sixth forms in schools can co-operate with colleges, he can find it in the city where he has worked for the past decade.

John Harwood was chief executive of Oxfordshire County Council for 11 years before moving to the national council last summer. Many people see Oxford as a city of privileged academics, but much of it faces the same skill needs as any other industrial area.

For the past 16 years, a group of six schools and Oxford College have ensured that pupils attending comparatively small sixth forms could study a wide range of subjects by running courses at a sixth form centre in Cowley. The six schools, four of which have fewer than 200 pupils in the sixth form, run common timetables in Years 12 and 13 so that students can attend courses at the centre, some of which are taught by lecturers from Oxford College.

Martin Roberts, head of The Cherwell School, believes the centre provides students with the same opportunities as a sixth form college while allowing schools to retain autonomous sixth forms.

Pupils from Cherwell havethe chance to take A-levels in subjects such as information technology, sociology and the performing arts, which it would be impossible for schools to offer independently.

"The driving force behind the consortium is the desire to sustain a good workforce in the city, regardless of which sixth form a student happens to attend," he adds .

He praises Oxford College for taking part but points out that the college ultimately gains as well. "If you make a high-quality offer in the city, then the college benefits because more youngsters become interested in long-term education and training," he says.

Clive Wickens, principal of Oxford College, says that co-operation between institutions was moulded in the 1980s for the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative and managed to survive the more competitive 1990s.

In his model, which he expects to be studied closely by the 47 local learning and skills councils, institutions produce a joint prospectus setting out the post-16 programmes on offer in schools, the college and the sixth form centre.

"There is fair access to information for everybody," he says.

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