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Sixth Form Provision in the Upper Valley: calls for wider debate

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Concern is growing about sixth form provision in the Upper Valley, with the real prospect that local school students may end up with no option for their sixth form education, either in the Upper Valley, or neighbouring local authorities.

The Green Party has sent the HebWeb the following press release where it questions local councillors' attitudes to this closure, and calls for public consultation and discussion.

From the Calderdale Green Party:

You might think that local councillors in the Todmorden and Calder wards would oppose the decision to close Todmorden High School sixth form in 2018. However, when contacted by Calderdale Green Party, councillors seemed ill-informed and complacent about the matter.

Cllr Susan Press's reply concluded, with seeming indifference, that sixth forms at all schools in the Upper Calder Valley are likely to close.

If this were to happen, and sixth forms in nearby local authority areas were to follow the example of Greenhead College in Huddersfield and make entry competitive for students from outside their catchment area, how would Upper Calder Valley students with modest GSCE grades go on to sixth form?

Get a grip on the facts

Clr. Ali Miles, a Calder Ward member of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel which oversees education in the borough, was wrong on three counts in responding to Calderdale Green Party's request for information:

  1. "The closure of Todmorden HS 6th form is a decision taken by the school and has therefore not been to Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel as the Council has no power to alter this decision."
  2. "Todmorden High School currently has only 57 pupils in the 6th form. There are only 187 pupils in 6th form at Todmorden, Calder and Sowerby Bridge high schools combined" -although she was right to state that "The Government's change in the way it funds 6th form places makes it unviable for any school or college to provide a 6th form for fewer than 250/300 pupils."
  3. "Around 25% of all 16 - 18 yr olds" choose to go outside Calderdale for 6th form education" and "The top performing 6th form college in Rochdale continues to be the preferred option for large numbers of these children, followed closely by Burnley, both of which are as easily accessible from Todmorden as Halifax."

Clr. Susan Press of Todmorden ward, the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Communities, repeated Cllr Miles' errors,

"Adequate Money for sixth-forms depends on viable numbers. No school in the Upper Valley has them. Our estimate is about 250 to make it work. Tod has about 50. Therefore academic choices have been limited. And most post -16s go to sixth-form colleges in Rochdale and Burnley. The same goes for all schools in the Upper Valley and their sixth-forms are also likely to close."

These are the facts

"The local authority have direct responsibility for funding the 3 valley schools which have not converted to academy status" (Calderdale Council's own report, referred to above) and, according to the Calder Valley MP, Craig Whittaker, "no committee within Calderdale Council has formally agreed to a reduction in provision at this stage. As Todmorden High school is a Local Authority controlled school, Calderdale Council's Cabinet will be required to discuss this issue and make a recommendation in due course."

OFSTED says Todmorden High School currently has 139 students in its 6th form and the 3 upper valley schools have a combined total of 457 sixth form students.

In 2014, 15% of the 2175 students who left Year 11 in Calderdale went to 6th forms outside Calderdale - 13% to the two 6th form colleges in Huddersfield, only 2% to Burnley whilst Rochdale took just 6 students - a vanishingly small percentage. 59 fewer 6th form students travelled into Lancashire in 2014 than in 2012. The Council's report states that "a few move west for their 6th form provision to Rochdale and Burnley".

Why Calderdale needs a strategic policy for 6th form education

6th form education in the upper valley is clearly threatened as central government increases funding pressures. However, Calderdale Council has direct responsibility for the three remaining non-academy secondary schools in its area and it needs a strategic policy for their 6th forms.

Todmorden High School' 2015 OFSTED report shows that it has performed creditably, its sixth form is rated as good and increasing numbers of students are entering the sixth form.

It compares favourably with other Calderdale schools. OFSTED has rated Calder High as Requires Improvement - including its 6th form, since "the rates of progress made by students undertaking academic subjects are not consistently good."

THS's increase in the proportion of students progressing into the sixth form stands out against the Calderdale trend, noted in a report commissioned by the Director of Calderdale Children's Services, that the "staying-on rate...has been declining in recent years..." Its 6th form as 20% of the school roll is higher than the proportion in Calder High (13%), Ryburn (15%), Rastrick (17%) and Sowerby (16%).

Calderdale Council must release all details about the possible closure and make the final decision following open, transparent democratic procedure

There seems to be no rational justification for closing THS sixth form. Combined with the possible closure of the community college in Todmorden, such a closure is a blow for a town which is struggling in many ways.

The public has a right to all details including financial reasons for possible closure and Calderdale Council must make its final decision is made in an open, transparent democratic manner.

The HebWeb has seen copies of emails referred to in the press release.

Download the official OFSTED report for Todmorden High School

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