Top tertiaries

I READ with interest Graham Peeke's article on the structure of the post-16 system (TES, August 9). I am sure that he is right when he says that the Government thinks that the current structure cannot deliver the improvements required.

Mr Peeke goes on to write that "comprehensive local systems rather than comprehensive institutions are seen as the way forward. Questions are being asked about the desirability of educating young people and adults together."

The debate is a complex one, but one piece of evidence which the Government should be leaning heavily on is the result of the first year of the new Office for Standards in Education inspections of FE colleges. To date, 94 colleges have been inspected. The top twelve performing colleges in terms of grades awarded to programme areas include four of England's top sixth-form colleges - no surprises there. These are not comprehensive institutions and they focus on 16-18 students.

The other eight colleges in the top ten include three general FE colleges and five tertiary colleges. Surely some mistake? Three of the top six are tertiary colleges. Truro and Bridgwater College are second and third top performing colleges - both are tertiary. Out of 27 programme areas inspected at the two colleges 16 were graded as outstanding and the other eleven as good. Only one sixth-form college, the elite Hills Road College in Cambridge, has beaten that. Yet Truro and Bridgwater colleges are comprehensive institutions which educate young people and adults together.

So the evidence of the first year of OFSTED inspections does not support the idea that comprehensive post-16 institutions perform worse than selective institutions, rather the reverse. Of the other three tertiary colleges in the top ten best performing colleges, the presence of Cirencester and Alton Colleges would support such critics, but the fourth is South Tyneside Tertiary College, clearly in a more urban setting.

A critic might also say that one of the worst performing colleges (North Derbyshire) is a tertiary college. However, in this case it cannot be called a true tertiary college in the sense that it is not a comprehensive institution as a result of competition from other, more selective providers.

So let's not necessarily dance to the Government's tune as far as the reform of the post-16 structure goes. We already have the answer in those parts of the country fortunate enough to have true tertiary colleges - and I have the evidence of OFSTED inspection to back me up.

Neil Punnett 6 Higher Mead Hemyock, Devon

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