£10m shake-up for sixth-forms attacked

PLANS for a multi-million-pound shake-up of post-16 education in Sheffield provoked a backlash from parents yesterday and put the city council on collision course with the city’s college.

Sheffield College has unveiled proposals to replace two centres at Parson Cross and Loxley with a single 10m centre in Hillsborough serving 1,800 students in the north of the city.

The blueprint conflicts with the local education authority’s vision for the north-east of the city. Last month it proposed a major new sixth form centre at Firth Park controlled by five feeder comprehensive schools.

The Learning Skills Council, which will fund the changes, will make the final decision on the proposals although it is understood that it could consider other alternatives in addition to the two proposed.

A campaign group set up to fight for the return of sixth forms in the north- east of Sheffield yesterday said that it was disappointed with the college’s plans.

A spokeswoman for the group, Nicky Reed, said: “We don’t support the idea of one site. We need one site in the north-west and one site in the north-east and they need to be sixth forms.

“We have had an incredible amount of support from parents, governors and students ,and the message from them all is that they need something of quality and that is accessible – Hillsborough would not be for the north-east.”

There has been a fierce debate over what is seen as inequality in education in the city. The prosperous south-west has retained its traditional sixth forms while pupils elsewhere in the city have studied at district college sites.

Sheffield College has also proposed expansion and refurbishment of its new Peaks Centre and Norton campus and the relocation of the city centre Castle site onto a single site concentrating on vocational courses.

The college will also seek to decentralise its management structure as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure it avoids a repeat of the financial difficulties that has engulfed it in recent years.

College principal John Taylor said the college and council shared the same objectives but after both had carried out separate research different conclusions about the way forward had been reached.

He added: “Following a detailed analysis of student needs, we are now in a position to lay sound foundations on which the future success of the college can be built.

“Clearly the quality of the student experience has been the driving force behind the strategy. However it would be foolish to allow the long-term benefits to be threatened by weak financial planning.”

Sheffield council leader Peter Moore yesterday underlined the LEA’s commitment to establishing two sixth-form centres in the north of the city.

He said: “The issue of the provision for 16- to 19-year-olds in the north of the city is one of the most important issues of the last five years for education. The choice that is on offer in the south of the city needs to be made available in the north.

“We believe there are sufficient numbers of students to establish two sites in the north and this will improve accessibility for young people. Accessibility is obviously a big factor in increasing participation rates. The results of the information gathering exercise we have asked officers to undertake will be a strong barometer of what parents and others in the north feel should happen”.

n Sheffield Council has unveiled its blueprint for education for the next three years and pledged to slim down its organisational structure.

Education chiefs will reduce the number of working groups, cutting wasteful duplication of work. They will also produce tighter, clearer plans to provide more manageable workloads for staff.

Deputy director of education Steve Farnsworth said: “This is an ambitious and detailed plan, building on the growing success of recent years to improve education standards across the city.

“We are well on course to meet the targets set out in our post-inspection plan and we’re pleased with increased rigour and clarity which we feel we’re now bringing to the challenge of moving Sheffield’s education service forward.”

The report also highlights marked improvements in English and science at GCSE, A-level and Key Stage Two which has made Sheffield the highest achieving major city in terms of pupils achieving five or more A to C grades.

Cabinet member for education Sylvia Anginotti said: “Sheffield has made excellent progress in education over the last few years, creating an education system that serves the whole city well and where rising standards are the norm.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent. This plan will ensure that we continue to make these improvements.”

ian.waugh@ypn.co.uk