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Wales review to target post-16s

Radical plans to boost the economy could put dozens of sixth forms at risk, reports Elaine Carlton

SIXTH forms in Wales would be radically overhauled under Government proposals aimed at regenerating the Welsh economy.

In a fresh drive to meet Welsh industry's demands for a skilled workforce, the proposals also call for 50,000 new places in further and higher education for people from working-class backgrounds.

But the wide-ranging action plan, which includes a new funding structure, could abolish dozens of Welsh sixth forms as students are directed towards centres of excellence. Produced by the Welsh Office and now out for consultation, the report aims to cut duplication and inefficient use of resources.

Although largely a technical document, its authors this week said the effects would be far reaching.

Sandra Davies, of the Education and Training Action Group which wrote the report, told The TES that the Welsh economy would never take off unless the focus of the education budget is changed.

Another member of the group, John McDowall, said: "If there is an area where there are five sixth forms and one college and they are all delivering A-levels and vocational training, why don't we encourage them to collaborate?" "If the sixth forms are trying to balance their budgets for a language lab, then why don't we let one school have a superb language lab? Let us pool all the resources."

Integrated funding would be central, drawing together school sixth forms, further education, adult education and training in the academic year 200001. New Community Consortia for Education and Training would receive funding from the National Assembly for Wales.

The education action group believes the plan could save Pounds 8 million to Pounds 12m a year. Ms Davies said: "We don't want to have sixth forms in schools trying to provide a curriculum that they can't afford to provide. If you have only two pupils doing French A-level, you have to ask yourself, is that the learning experience children should have?" The funding proposals will put small sixth forms in areas where there is a flourishing FE college under threat of closure.

Wales currently has 166 sixth forms, yet only 116 of these have more than 100 pupils.

The report says: "We do not think it makes sense for a college that cannot cover a discipline successfully to stay in the field when local schools can. Nor do we think it prudent for schools that can't maintain viable sixth-form courses to struggle to sustain them."

The plan also focuses on social exclusion and proposes 50,000 new places in further and higher education over the next five years, aimed at attracting people from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds. Three-quarters of these places must be in FE.

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