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'Yellow Pages' college will sponsor two academies

A college praised for its success after dropping A-levels to focus on vocational courses is set to be the first to sponsor the transformation of two schools into academies.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has approved a proposal for Barnfield College to sponsor two new pound;30 million academies in Luton.

Barnfield will contribute pound;2million to the start-up costs of both the replacements for Halyard and South Luton high schools.

The two 11-16 schools will be replaced by 11-18 academies, which will be run as a federation with the college. A key aim of the plan is to provide a seamless progression from entry to the schools at 11 to apprenticeships and skilled employment or degree courses at 18. Students will be able to split study time between school and college.

As part of the changes the college will spend pound;30m to pound;60m on new buildings, drawing on its own funds loans and cash from the Government.

The move is just one example of the increasing involvement of FE colleges and vocational training providers in schools.

Prospects college, a private training charity in Essex, is already poised to create a new hybrid between a school and vocational college in Southend.

Cirencester college, Lewisham college and West Nottingham college are among those who have been approached about running trust schools - the controversial new breed of state-funded independent schools - according to the Department for Education and Skills.

Barnfields principal Pete Birkett said he wanted to improve school performance and create a knock-on effect in FE.

He said: "I am passionate about about finding ways to improve young people's lives. Young people deserve an excellent education first time around. And there is no doubt that if we can improve performance pre-16, our post-16 success rates are also going to improve."

But a report by Luton local education authority, outlining its support for the bid, admits that there is no conclusive proof of the effectiveness of academies.

If the plans pass a feasibility test, which could last from six months to 18 months, the two schools will be released from local authority control, and then be able to set their own admissions policies and staff pay and conditions.

As part of the plan, they will set up two new sixth forms. Mr Birkett said collaboration would ensure these would not be a threat to the local sixth-form college, Luton college Barnfield and Luton colleges are both rated outstanding by Ofsted and former chief inspector, David Bell, attributed this to their division of labour: Barnfield, nicknamed a "Yellow Pages" college by its former principal, focuses on vocational subjects, while the sixth-form college concentrates on academic courses.

One possibility is that the sixth-form college may support A-levels at the new academies. Mr Birkett said both colleges had agreed to cooperate but no details had been finalised. Simon Kitchener, principal of the sixth-form college, said: "We want the academies to be part of that collaboration, not standing outside it as they are seen in some areas."

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