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Sixth Forms

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what studies his Department has made as to whether the removal of the sixth form has adverse effects on the lower school.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the House would like his assurance that he will not embrace the fashion for sixth form colleges without a study of their effect lower down the school? Is he aware that if A-level pupils and teachers are removed from a school it can narrow its aims and objectives, to the detriment of pupils in earlier years?

Strong educational arguments are often advanced for retaining 11-to-18 schools rather than having sixth form colleges. However, I have to balance that against the fact that, with the falling number of pupils of secondary school age, it may be difficult for every secondary school to have a viable sixth form unless it becomes too large overall. Different solutions may be the answer in different parts of the country.

As no studies have taken place, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman still proposing to go ahead with his assisted places schemes for sixth form pupils, thus further depriving schools of those very pupils that his hon. Friend mentioned? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman intend to conduct a study to see whether the assisted places scheme will benefit individual sixth form pupils and what the effect will be on the schools that they leave?

The answer should be obvious from our legislation. We intend to go ahead, with our assisted places scheme. The proposal has always been that in the main pupils should go to such schools at the normal age of entry.

While a number of sixth form colleges, including that in Scunthorpe, are worthwhile and achieve excellent results, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many comprehensive schools with sixth forms not only deliver the academic results but benefit from the part that sixth forms play?

I fully accept that, but the situation differs in different parts of the country. I have visited one or two extremely good sixth form colleges, where clearly, as a result, the take-up of education beyond the age of 16 has increased. However, in other areas the demand for sixth form education is sufficient for individual schools to have viable sixth forms. I attempt to take all these factors into account in my decisions on educational provision.

Will the Minister consider an investigation into sixth form education? Is he aware that many of us feel that open access secondary colleges, as opposed to sixth form colleges, have done a marvellous job in many parts of the country?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. However, from his previous experience and connection with the Department of Education and Science he will know that I receive continuing advice from Her Majesty's Inspectors, which includes general advice on the educational merits or otherwise of sixth form colleges.