Rutland County College, a sixth form annexe to Casterton Business and Enterprise College (CBEC) based in Oakham, announced closure in April after plans to relocate to CBEC were abandoned. The move had been triggered by the setting up of a rival sixth form free school in Oakham.
£1m had been spent on new accommodation at CBEC for the relocated sixth form but the hoped-for demand from south Rutland and the nearby Lincolnshire town of Stamford didn’t materialize. As a large proportion of CBEC’s intake walk from Stamford (it’s that close) such lack of interest was disappointing. The accommodation earmarked for the sixth form will now provide additional classrooms.
Despite the closure of CBEC’s sixth form due to poor demand, a proposal to open a sixth form at Stamford Welland Academy was approved at an April meeting of the East Midlands and the Humber Headteacher Board. The meeting was attended by just three people: Tim Coulson, commissioner for the East of England and North-East London, who chaired the meeting in place of the original commissioner, and just two of six members.
The decision appears to have by-passed the quality criteria expected by the Department for Education when considering academy proposals to add a sixth form. Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) and their boards are supposed to consider the following:
1 An expectation that the sixth form will attract ‘200 students or more’. Stamford Welland has just 350 pupils* in five year groups. Its intake is growing but the Pupil Admission Number is just 120. The majority of these pupils would have to move into the sixth form in order to reach the expected 200 (and there’s local competition – see below).
2 Local demand ‘including any shortage of post 16 places’. It’s already apparent there is no local demand because CBEC’s sixth form has closed. There is already local post-16 provision: New College, Stamford, a further education college, and two established sixth forms in nearby Bourne (Bourne Grammar and Bourne Academy). There is ample public transport between Stamford and Bourne.
3 Financial viability. One local sixth form has already been shown to be financially unviable because of low interest.
Schools Week (print edition 14 July 2017) reports that Tim Coulson, who chaired the meeting which approved Stamford Welland’s sixth form, has apparently flouted the rule about expected number of pupils before. His own Headteacher Board, East of England and North London, approved a proposal to set up a sixth form at Abbs Cross Academy and Arts College, Hornchurch. The decision was taken to a judicial review but this was cancelled at the last minute after a settlement was reached with the Association of Colleges and Havering Sixth Form College which had challenged the proposal.
The East Midland and Humber Headteacher Board now has a new chair, Regional Schools Commissioner John Edwards. Perhaps he should review the controversial decision to allow Stamford Welland to open a sixth form when it’s clear there is no local demand. If CBEC with a PAN of 180 and 711* current pupils can’t sustain a sixth form, it’s unclear how Stamford Welland can do so.
CORRECTION 11.15 The original article dated the Schools Week print edition as 4 July 2017. It was 14 July. This has been corrected.