Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Welcome U-Turn

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Welcome U-Turn

Article excerpt

"It's the marketplace; why are we surprised? The dirty tricks brigade comes in and the only thing that matters in the end is winning the funding."

These words, succinctly expressing the no-holds-barred competition for post-16 students between some schools and colleges, were uttered by David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges' Association, back in 2012. They could just as easily have been spoken today. Tensions between the two sectors have been exacerbated by the previous government's urging of schools to open their own sixth forms. Under the coalition, 169 new sixth forms opened.

For better or worse, former education secretary Michael Gove strongly held the opinion that a school sixth form was a powerful motivational tool for young people, and competition between different providers would drive up standards, to the benefit of all students.

It always appeared, however, that promoting duplication of existing provision at the same time as imposing stark funding cuts in FE was at best ill-timed, at worst frivolous.

But this week, all that changed. Buried on page 14 of the guidance on the FE area reviews came two paragraphs that amount to the most significant U-turn on education policy since the general election.

"Similar provision in sixth forms is often duplicated in relatively small geographical areas when it could be delivered in a more joined up way," the document says. "This may be particularly the case where sixth forms are very small, as some evidence raises concerns about the costs, breadth of offer and outcomes for these providers. …

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