Sixth-form plan is shortsighted

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Having read your front-page article about plans to remove all sixth forms in Merthyr Tydfil and build a new "one-size-fits-all" tertiary college ("Sixth forms face axe", TES Cymru, January 13), I felt compelled to respond.

Council members who are also school governors were excluded from voting on the decision, and ELWa, the post-16 education funding agency, is effectively holding out a "cash bonus" to the rest of the council if it backs the scheme.

Any objections from parents are patronisingly dismissed as "emotive". In fact, there are a number of evidence-based objections to the scheme, especially in regard to its stated objective of increasing participation in post-16 education and raising the achievements of the lowest-performing pupils.

ELWa appears to believe that the reason for low attainment post-16 in Merthyr is that we have too much sixth-form provision - not that we have a population heavily skewed towards families in poverty, or with no culture of further education.

Even if we ignore social, cultural and economic elements, and focus solely on school-based factors, the obvious solution would be to increase the number of vocational options available, and discover whether this has an effect - not dismantle a system which already caters successfully for 50 per cent of youngsters, on the off-chance that it will be beneficial to others.

Finally, there is the unforgivably neglected issue of the 11-16 schools which will remain. ELWa might feel the only drawbacks will be the loss of pastoral support and positive role models provided by sixth forms, but the rest of us are equally concerned about difficulties in retaining good-quality staff and the real likelihood that many parents, faced with no sixth-form option in Merthyr Tydfil, will simply move their children out of the borough to neighbouring authorities with more foresight.

Worse still, while Merthyr is just beginning to get the message across that it is a great place to live - with an excellent road network combined with stunning countryside - schools without sixth forms will be a huge disincentive for people to move into the area.

This proposal is based on flawed evidence and completely "unjoined-up"

thinking and we need to fight it.

Sally Winter

Upper High St, Cefn Coed Merthyr Tydfil

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