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'Virtual' sixth form has a real impact

A "VIRTUAL sixth form" in a West Yorkshire secondary school has more than doubled the number of 16-year-olds staying on and is being touted as a model for the future.

With the high cost of small school sixth-forms under scrutiny and the Government in the middle of a review of post-16 funding, the startling success of the scheme at South Halifax high school is causing a stir.

Unable to set up its own sixth form, the school began sharing courses from Year 10 onwards with nearby Calderdale College.

The college is portrayed to pupils as an extension of the school. They are encouraged to see Calderdale as "their" sixth-form. Visits, courses and contacts enable pupils to become familiar with the college.

Two years ago, before the start of the project, only 29 per cent of South Halifax's students stayed in education after 16. The figure this year was 80 per cent.

Head Graham Wright sums up the thinking behind the scheme: "This is the best of both worlds. Just as students at neighbouring secondaries can see sixth formers walking about their schools every day, so South Halifax pupils will get the chance to meet, and perhaps then aspire to emulate, their counterparts at the college."

The whole of South Halifax's Year 10 now take part in a three-week Internet project at the college, with attendance last year running at 93 per cent for a year group with average attendance of 82 per cent.

Twenty Year 10 pupils also take part in a General National Vocational Qualification in construction partly based at the college, while the Year 10 and Year 11 art courses are shared between the school and college campuses.

There is a study support group at the college for students who are thought to have the potential to achieve five A to D GCSE grades and a system of guidance interviews involving college tutors for pupils showing signs of disaffection.

Of the 20 students targeted by the latter programme last year, 16 went on to gain at least one GCSE grade A-G, contributing to a 12 per cent rise in the school's overall A-G grades.

A host of other activities, including a joint staff development programme, drama productions, an art day, and a series of college open days have attempted to bring the college into the everyday life of the school. All of the school's pupils aged over 12, will make at least one visit to the college this year.

The Halifax education action zone is spending pound;30,000 to develop the approach in other schools in its area this year.

Calderdale, 11

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