Rutland free school actually reduces Parental Choice

Janet Downs's picture

A Rutland secondary school, Casterton College, which was forced to close Rutland County College (RCC) after a new sixth form free school opened, now has an operating deficit of £214,254, the most recent accounts reveal.  

Although in Rutland, Casterton College, formerly Casterton Business and Enterprise College, draws 70% of its intake from Stamford in Lincolnshire.  For most of Stamford’s development since the 1960s, Casterton College is the nearest secondary school.  It was judged good in 2016 and its Progress 8 score in 2017 was above average.

Yet this successful school has been negatively affected by the decision to open Harington School, an academic sixth form free school, in Oakham, Rutland’s county town.

RCC was located in an annex near the site of Harington School.  Casterton’s head Carl Smith realised having two sixth forms so close to each other ‘didn’t make sense’.  He decided to move RCC to Casterton College where he hoped it would ‘solve the Stamford sixth form problem once and for all’.  Stamford has no state sixth form provision – pupils either use the town’s further education college, New College, or travel outside Stamford for post-16 state education.

The idea was overwhelmingly backed by parents but applications for Casterton’s sixth form were too low for it to remain viable.  Governors took the reluctant decision to close the sixth form.

In spite of this lack of interest in state sixth form provision near Stamford, the Department for Education (DfE) recently gave permission for a sixth form to be established at Stamford’s only state secondary school, Stamford Welland Academy (formerly Queen Eleanor School).  This was despite the academy not passing the quality criteria expected by the DfE when considering academy proposals to add a sixth form. 

Free schools are, we are told, supposed to increase parental choice.  In Rutland, it had the opposite effect.  An established sixth form offering both academic and vocational courses had to close after a free school sixth form offering only academic subjects opened.   Rutland parents whose children wish to follow a vocational route now have to look outside Rutland for their children’s post-16 education.

School funding is being stretched to breaking point.  It is not a time to set up free schools which threaten the viability of existing schools.  Neither should the DfE be considering setting up sixth form at a school which does not meet, and is unlikely to meet, the expectation that it will have at least 200 pupils attending its newly-established sixth form.

 UPDATE:  This is an amended article replacing the one posted on 19 March.  The headline has been changed and the accounts quote removed as it was taken out of context.



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Dan Hiblin's picture
Wed, 28/03/2018 - 16:42

As a member of the Stamford Free School Proposer Group (SFSPG) and now an Academy Councillor (Governor) at Stamford Welland Academy I must disagree with your reporting on the impact of free schools in Stamford, which appears to be somewhat skewed towards the impact of education policy and decisions on Casterton College Rutland and RCC.

CMAT were asked by the DfE to take over Queen Eleanor School as a direct result of being involved with SFSPG in their free school bid. The DfE took this step because QE was so unpopular that its year 7 in-take had dropped to only 39 pupils, endangering the future viability of the only state secondary school in Stamford – seriously restricting the choice of Stamford parents who wanted to send their children to a well-funded, vibrant school within the town.

Since CMAT took control, the school has gone from strength to strength. OFSTED upgraded the school to ‘Good’ at our last inspection and we are working hard to reach ‘Outstanding’. Year 7 in-take numbers have risen from the nadir of 39 in the year CMAT took over to 108 last September and we expect to be significantly oversubscribed for our 120 year 7 places in September this year.  Fewer children are now travelling out of our community for secondary schooling and we have secured the viability of our secondary school.

This huge improvement in local secondary school provision would not have happened if Stamford parents hadn’t exercised the only option left available to them and pushed for a free school.

Regarding sixth form provision: a key aspect of the free school bid (based on feedback from parents) was for CMAT to provide school-based sixth-form provision within the town. In achieving this at Stamford Welland Academy, CMAT have simply implemented that plan in a considered, sustainable manner. The academy and CMAT are working with local providers including New College Stamford, Casterton College Rutland and other local providers to provide a complementary and comprehensive post-16 offer for the town of Stamford.  It is through these links and links to other sixth-forms in the academy trust that CMAT will ensure that the viability criteria laid down by the DfE for sixth-forms are met at Stamford Welland Academy and not through competing for students and thereby threatening already existing, effective and valued provision within the town.  An example of this commitment to working together sees senior leaders from the academy serving as a governor at New College Stamford and vice versa.

One might also note that sixth form provision in Rutland also seems to have improved with parents there now having an outstanding provision in place of the previous option.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/03/2018 - 09:03

Thank you for your reply.  The 'previous option' in Rutland, the established Rutland County College, was judged good in December 2016.  Inspectors wrote:

.'...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 average.'

Rutland County College, then, was providing an education which resulted in A level results being above national average.   But RCC had to close because of the decision to open a new free school close to RCC.    A level results for Harington school in 2017 were at, not above, the national average.  Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't support the statement that sixth form provision in Rutland has improved.  And Harington doesn't offer vocational qualifications as RCC did.

You're right that Stamford Welland's predecessor Queen Eleanor School had become unpopular.  This is hardly surprising given the constant negativity towards QES in the local press letter pages.  QES and its predecessor school, Fane School, were accused of having 'failed' for decades.   This relentless drip, drip of antagonism to QES is likely to have contributed to its unpopularity.    

You're right that Stamford Welland has improved since CMAT took over.  It's now been upgraded to good from requires improvement.  Casterton College has also been upgraded to good and its Year 7 group has also grown.  It's pleasing that Stamford parents now have two good local secondary schools to choose from.  And their situation would be much improved if selection was phased out as has been recommended by researchers from Durham University.  Both schools would benefit from having their fair share of previously high-achieving pupils.


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