Ashton Community Science College’s sixth form to close as numbers fall

Ashton Community Science College
Ashton Community Science College
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Community college says ‘lack of interest’ from prospective pupils prompted action.

The sixth form of a high school in Preston looks likely to shut its doors as the number of youngsters studying there after the age of 16 continues to fall.

It is not expected that closing the sixth form will have an adverse impact on the achievements made by young people from the local area.

Ashton Community Science College (ACSC) currently has no students in its sixth form, after the school decided not to recruit any due to a “lack of interest”.

An open evening held last year, to invite pupils to join from this September, attracted no visitors, and Lancashire County Council is now proposing to shut down the facility.

A consultation on the proposals has now finished, and the authority’s cabinet member for children, young people and schools, County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, is due to make a decision next month (December 7).

The proposal is to “discontinue the post-16 sixth form provision” at the Aldwych Drive centre, by permanently lowering its age range from 11-18 to 11-16, with effect from the end of August 2017.

Following discussions, the school had informed Lancashire County Council of its wish to consult on the future of the facility, because of concerns about its “financial and educational viability”.

It has low student numbers, and only offers subjects in two curriculum areas. Should the closure of the sixth form go ahead, the school will remain “open and unchanged for secondary school provision”.

A proposal report said when leaders at the centre approached Lancashire County Council last December to discuss its future, there were only 32 students in the first year of its sixth form, and just four of those were intending to progress into their second year.

It said the school had an open evening for its sixth form in December last year to publicise the provision and gauge the level of interest in joining from this September.

But, despite promoting the event, nobody visited it.

The report said: “In recent years, there has been minimal interest from students in progressing to ACSC’s sixth form.

“In 2015/16, only 14 pupils chose to stay on at ACSC for post 16 provision, as their first preference.”

It said most youngsters who left the school went on to a further education college rather than a sixth form and, of those progressing to a school sixth form, not all stayed at ACSC.

The report said guidelines state a minimum of 200 places and a “clear demand” must be in place to approve the opening of a new sixth form, and said: “As no interest was shown in the open event for the sixth form’s 2016/17 offer and there are no students in the sixth form at present, it is not expected that closure of the sixth form will have an adverse impact on participation by young people from the local area.”

It also said inspectors had identified a number of weaknesses at the sixth form, with all the nearby alternative providers rated as “good” or “outstanding” by OfSTED.

It said: “The young people attending the sixth form do not achieve as well as they could and they have poor attendance.

“It is not expected that closing the sixth form will have an adverse impact on the achievements made by young people from the local area.”

In the academic year of 2015/16, the sixth form was only offering subjects in two curriculum areas – one course under science and mathematics and four courses under hair and beauty.

The report said: “While young people will not be able to access post 16 provision at ACSC if this proposal is approved, some or all of the courses offered by ACSC are available at a number of other post 16 institutions in the local area.

“These providers are Cardinal Newman College, Preston’s College, Moor Park High School and Sixth Form and Carr Hill High School and Sixth Form Centre.

“All of these have been rated by OfSTED as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and they are within three to six miles of ACSC.

“There is capacity at these providers should any students from ACSC wish to progress into post 16 education or training with them.”

County Coun Tomlinson, cabinet member for children and schools, said: “Ashton Community Science College approached the county council in December last year to tell us that they wished to consult on the future of their sixth form due to concerns about its financial and educational viability.

“The sixth form had very low student numbers and consequently was only able to offer a very limited educational curriculum, in just two subject areas.

“At their request, we recently carried out a four-week consultation into proposals to close the sixth form and I will take a formal decision on its future at the beginning of December, after the results of that consultation have been considered.”

According to the proposal report, if the sixth form is closed, the capacity currently used for it will become available.

It said: “As the number of mainstream pupils is set to increase in the Preston area over future years, this will enable the school to consider increasing the number of statutory aged pupils it can accommodate.”

Because the number of students attending the sixth form is low, and other providers are available in the area, the report said: “The local authority does not believe that there will be an adverse impact on participation should ACSC not offer sixth form provision in the future.”

If the proposal is agreed, the sixth form will close on August 31 2017.

The report said: “The sixth form has a very limited provision offer, little or no interest from young people in enrolling in the future, and has a number of weaknesses which have been identified by independent bodies, such as OfSTED.

“As the secondary element of the school is unaffected by this proposal and the number of young people accessing the sixth form is minimal, the closure of the sixth form is not expected to have an adverse impact on the community.”

It went on to say: “The school took the decision not to recruit any students to its sixth form from September 2016 due to the lack of interest as described.

“As a result, there are currently no young people accessing this provision.

“This was a decision taken by the school outside of this consultation process.

“Arrangements were made for any young people accessing provision at the sixth form in 2015/16 who wished to continue in post 16 education to do so at another local provider.”

“This means that no further transition planning is required as there are no young people to relocate.”

What school leaders say

Brian Rollo, a governor for Ashton College, said: “Unfortunately there has been less and less demand for the sixth form facility. With falling budgets, it had become uneconomical to continue. Eleven pupils had express their wish to attend the sixth form but we are reluctantly withdrawing the service.”

Preston Coun John Swindells, vice-chairman of governors and a former pupil said 11- 16 provision was not threatened. He said: “It’s not operating as a sixth form now and hasn’t done since July. It’s got to go through formal process.”

Coun Swindells said when the sixth form opened six years ago there had been an intention to create a post 16 unit but the government’s funding policies and the council’s plans had changed.

He said: “The government changed and the post 16 agenda changed.”

Deputy Leader of Lancashire County Council, David Borrow, whose division includes the school, said: “It’s very much for the governors. The decision to have a sixth form at Ashton wasn’t a decision by the county council and nor was the decision to close it. Every sixth form college needs to have a certain size to give a proper range of subjects.”

How the Government has changed post-16 education - Sonja Astbury, Education reporter

Post 16 education has been undergoing a major change since 2013, when the Government raised the leaving to 17 and then 18 in 2015.

This was the first change in the school leaving age since 1972 and under the new rules after GCSEs at 16, pupils have to remain in education, training, or employment until they are 18.

This means they have to do academic course, such as A levels, get an apprenticeship or get a full time job with training. Anyone who does not get an A* to C at GCSE in maths and English has to do these subjects again .

Lancashire is unlike most other authorities in that few schools have sixth forms so the majority of pupils leave school at 16 then transfer to college.

However, under the rules 14-16 year olds can also enrol at college and sixth form to do vocational/careers courses.