Shake-up or stitch-up?

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Schools suspect the future post-16 shape of East Sussex has already been secretly decided. William Gwynne reports.

A controversial report examining post-16 options for East Sussex has been attacked as a sham, with critics accusing local learning bosses of having already made up their minds in favour of a "monster" tertiary college.

East Sussex wants to reorganise education for sixth-formers, with options supposedly including school sixth forms, and an independent sixth-form college.

The Hastings and Rother Review, a "study and appraisal of options", was commissioned by the local learning and skills council in partnership with East Sussex education authority.

But Derek Greenup, the head of William Parker school, Hastings, claims the report masks a fait accompli, with a single, huge tertiary college the preferred option. "If you read the document ... the tertiary option is the favoured one because of the probable cost," said Mr Greenup. "The tertiary options are all about positives, the other options are all negatives." Mr Greenup said he had started out believing "all options were viable" and there would be full consultation but now thought a "monster tertiary model - a real behemoth" was a fait accompli.

This would be disastrous for youngsters in disadvantaged Hastings, he said, who need strong support from local colleges and schools.

Another senior teacher claimed the study had been kept secret. It was initially released only to heads and chairs of governors. The source also claimed the tertiary option was a "foregone conclusion".

The study was undertaken by KPMG, analysing four options: an independent sixth-form college, a "full tertiary option" based primarily in Hastings, a rural sixth-form centre, and a "federal arrangement" of school sixth forms in Hastings. It says the independent sixth-form college scenario is financially weak but the three remaining options are still viable.

The tertiary scheme envisages a pound;25 million capital cash injection, more than is required for other "models". But the report says it is financially viable in the long term.

East Sussex LEA said the outcome was not a foregone conclusion, and definitive decisions were a long way off. Michael Nix, LEA assistant director, also said there had been nothing secret about the KPMG report. He said those behind it wanted it "dealt with in confidence" during an initial two-week period, but were then happy for it to be "released more widely".

Mr Nix conceded that the tertiary scheme was "likely to be more feasible in educational and financial terms than the other options".

But he insisted all options were still open, pending a consultation exercise.

"If there are objections then the matter will eventually go to the Secretary of State, so there won't be a final decision until September next year at the earliest," he said.

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