Wensleydale School in the Yorkshire Dales to suspend sixth form despite positive Ofsted report

Wensleydale School is to suspend its post-16 provision for a year and review its future despite receiving a positive Ofsted report this month.

The secondary in Leyburn, which serves some of the most remote communities in the Yorkshire Dales, has cited the withdrawal of government funding for BTEC courses as the reason for the possible closure of its sixth form.

In 2018, A Level teaching ended and the post-16 offer became the Business and Innovation Centre, with a focus on BTEC and CTEC qualifications in subjects including business, IT, sport, travel and tourism and health and social care rather than traditional academic courses.

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The centre works with local businesses to offer opportunities for teenagers to remain working in the Dales when they complete their studies.

Wensleydale School

Each student is offered an internship and access to a mentor through a partnership with the Lower Wensleydale Business Network.

The next nearest sixth form for Wensleydale teenagers is at Richmond School, though traditionally pupils looking to study A Levels or a broader range of courses have travelled to Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington.

This month Wensleydale School was given a Good rating by Ofsted following its most recent inspection.

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Inspectors praised the ‘strong leadership’, the ‘respectful' adult and student relationships, the extracurricular activities and also referenced the pupils’ ‘pride’ about their ‘tight knit community’ and the ‘inclusive nature of the school.

The school has gone to great lengths to build links with the wider community in Leyburn and the Wensleydale area and inspectors picked up on these charitable and business connections and also added ‘the curriculum follows and extends beyond the academic. It ensures pupils have the opportunities to develop into responsible, caring and well-rounded adults’. The report also referenced the large proportion of parents who spoke positively about the school’s pastoral care.

The school has undergone an intensive phase of change to ensure all areas of teaching are watertight, create a range of opportunities which extend beyond academic study and bolster morale among staff and parents alike, under a vision shared by all leaders. The Ofsted report specifically acknowledged that ‘leaders are unwavering in their commitment to the school community’ and that ‘parents praised leaders for their support during the pandemic’.

Headteacher Julia Polley, who came to the school just before the last inspection, said the ‘excellent’ result reflects the handwork of all staff, students and governors. She said: “I’m very pleased with the grading. I’ve spent the last six-and-a-half years of managing change and I’m determined to take the school to the next level over the next five years. I’m extremely proud of students, staff, governors and all who contribute to our school community.”

The sixth form was graded as Requires Improvement under special circumstances.

The school added: "With the government’s withdrawal of BTECs, it is difficult for the school to offer a curriculum with the sufficient breadth required and inspectors highlighted the post-16 offering had ‘narrowed' and acknowledged this was ‘in part due to financial constraints’. This doesn’t affect the overall grading of the school.

"The post-16 offering will be suspended for one year, while the school explores its options. The school is committed to its existing Year 12s and will provide them with all they need to successfully complete their course next year. We are also proud that all students who have studied at the Business and Innovation Centre over the past four years, have successfully gone on to industry and higher education destinations, having gained hands-on work and mentoring by local businesses, along the way."