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.