Free schools, we are told, will offer more choice to parents. But that’s not what's happened in Rutland, England’s smallest county.
There was already a sixth form, Rutland County College, when a bid was put forward in 2013 to open a second sixth form, Harington School, offering A levels only. This was necessary, proposers argued, because A level results at Rutland CC, a satellite of Casterton Business and Enterprise College (CBEC), were low. And a new sixth form was needed to meet projected demand: the growth in the number of pupils aged 15-19 by 2015 would put ‘significant place pressure’ on Rutland CC.
The Impact Assessment for Harington School said the threat to Rutland CC was merely ‘moderate’ despite the proposed free school site being less than a mile away. The Assessment recognised academic pupils would likely choose Harington because Rutland CC required improvement. However, students wanting alternatives to A levels would still choose Rutland CC because it offered a ‘wider choice of 16-19 provision’. The conclusion was:
‘The long term viability of this college [Rutland CC] is unlikely to be significantly affected when Harington School opens’.
Carl Smith, the Principal of CBEC/Rutland CC, realised having two sixth form colleges close together ‘didn’t make sense’, the Stamford Mercury reported. But rather than see Harington as a threat, Mr Smith saw it as a ‘wonderful opportunity’. Although CBEC is in Rutland, it is very close to the Lincolnshire town of Stamford which has no state sixth form. Moving Rutland CC to the CBEC site would ‘solve the Stamford sixth form problem once and for all, while at the same time addressing the over-supply of post-16 places in the west of the county [Rutland]’.
Parents and pupils overwhelmingly backed the scheme. Plans began to move Rutland CC to Casterton for scheduled opening in September 2017.
Harington School opened in September 2015. It affected applications to Rutland CC so badly there were insufficient applications for September 2016. With just one week to go, Year 12 students were told classes would not go ahead. But Mr Smith was hopeful that Year 12 classes would restart when the sixth form relocated to Casterton.
Harington was inspected in January 2017 and judged Outstanding. CBEC and its sixth form were inspected in December 2016 and upgraded to Good. Inspectors found:
‘... leaders have a clear vision for the sixth form. Improvements have been made to the quality of teaching and the range of courses offered. Outcomes in the sixth form are good overall. A-level grades have improved rapidly and are above national averages.’
But last week came the shock decision that plans for a sixth form at CBEC would not go ahead.
Rutland, then, is back to the situation of three years ago. It has just one sixth form. And the sixth form free school doesn’t offer the same range of courses that Rutland CC did. Rather than extending provision, Rutland has lost a good sixth form. Rather than extending choice, the establishment of a solely academic sixth form free school has reduced it.
CORRECTION 7 April 2017 'Harington' had been misspelled as 'Hartington'. This has been corrected.