‘Free school’ just not needed, says Rutland County College principal

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A principal says there is no need for a proposed free school in Rutland because her college can cope with the vast majority of pupils looking to move into sixthform.

Rutland County College principal Vicky Crosher and headteacher Carl Smith say their Barleythorpe facility has 300 pupils and 150 leave after taking their A-levels every summer.

They say the college can take 470 pupils in total. Therefore it can take 320 of the 400 pupils who leave the county’s secondary schools every summer meaning there is no need for another sixthform.

However, Catmose College principal Stuart Williams, who along with Uppingham Community College is proposing to create a free school, says not enough students are getting the top grades. That’s why he believes a free school is needed.

Catmose and Uppingham are in the process of consulting teachers, pupils and parents and hope to submit a bid for the free school, called Harington School, to the Department of Education in January.

But Mrs Crosher and Mr Smith say based on the numbers another sixthform in Rutland is not viable.

Mrs Crosher said: “We are really thriving and growing here and we have the facilities to cater for more students.

“The Government says that for a sixthform to be viable it needs at least 150 students, ideally 200 plus.

“So with the numbers we are able to take on, there would not be enough students left in the county that would justify a new school being built. It would be dividing a small pot into an even smaller pot.

“With such few students, it cannot offer a range of subjects. A sixthform with under 100 students really is a non-starter.”

Since opening its new site in Barleythorpe, Rutland County College has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of students enrolled, from 194 in 2011, to 300 in 2012.

Harington School would be for students throughout the county and offer A-levels and enrichment activities to specifically aid the process of applying to the most prestigious universities, including those in the Russell Group, which includes Oxford University and Cambridge University.

Mrs Crosher says the Rutland County College already provides opportunities for more academic students via its Russell Group University Entry Programme. More than 40 students are on the programme which has been running for 18 months.

Mr Smith said: “There’s a suggestion that some of the more able students in Rutland are not catered for but that’s a complete reverse of the truth. It’s patently untrue.

“We have a bespoke programme for those looking to go to Russell Group universities.

“If you take the 400 pupils who will be leaving state secondary schools in the county at the end of the school year, 20 to 25 of them will have achieved five or more As or A*s and we have the capacity to take them. In the programme’s first year we had 20 young people applying for Russell Group universities which is fabulous.”

However, Catmose principal Stuart Williams has referred to national statistics to suggest that there are not enough students getting at least two As and a B at A-level, the entry requirements for Russell Group universities, in the county. Figures published by the Department of Education show nationally 20 per cent of students achieved these grades in 2013 but only nine per cent attained these results in Rutland.

He said: “They may well be able to offer places for 400 students but only 10 per cent of my pupils are choosing Rutland County College as their first choice.

“Most of our academic pupils are having to travel significant distances and that’s a real problem.

“The demand for a new sixthform is there and there for good reason. We’ve been holding consultations with parents and pupils and not a single person has said the free school is something we shouldn’t consider.”

A website for Harington School has been launched. Visit www.haringtonschool.com