Harris Academy (Peckham) Head defends sixth form closure

BY TOBY PORTER toby@slpmedia.co.uk

A school’s headteacher has defended her decision to close its sixth form with only weeks to go before the next academic year restarts.

Rebecca Hickey, of Harris Academy Peckham (HAP), said the move was necessary because it was not attracting enough students for its year 12 and 13 A-level and vocational courses.

The decision came after a “very thorough curriculum review” and after only 30 pupils applied for post-16 education.

The school’s finances also showed the budget for the four junior year classes was subsidising the sixth form to the tune of £250,000.

“The decision was made because of the numbers of students we were attracting and whether that made the sixth form viable,” said Ms Hickey, who was appointed to the post last September.

Current class sizes are five pupils but they should be 14 on average. “In one class there is only a single pupil.

It was clear something needed to be addressed. “Generating class discussions in those circumstances is nowhere near as rich as a larger group.

“Learning from each other is crucial and prepares you for university.”

Government guidance says sixth forms need 200 pupils – but HAP has only 119. There were only 30 applicants for places for this coming September.

But all of them are holding offers for other sixth forms so we had to make an early decision for their sake,” she added.

“Students are the heart and soul of everything we do. Their interests are our primary consideration. We have very strong pastoral care.

“But there were also budgetary issues. In those circumstances we would have had to use up funds in the sixth form which should have been earmarked for Years 7-11. “We are in a competitive area and need to convince people our provision is exemplary.

There are opportunities in other areas. “A successful sixth form is the result of brilliant Year 11 results, where GCSEs have been strong, so that those pupils want to carry on in the same school and are loyal to their teachers.

“It has to be developed all the way up. We want to start preparing them at the Year 7 stage. We have phenomenally talented pupils and want to make every single pupil successful.

We have a wonderfully diverse population. There are 50 languages spoken and it is very harmonious. We are deeply proud of that.”

The closure of car mechanics and hair & beauty courses was because of changes to the government’s policy on apprenticeships which make those subjects inappropriate at Key State 4 level.

The classes had just 11 students and five respectively.

Ms Hickey promised redundancies would be a last resort. “We do not want to close the sixth form or lose teachers,” she said. “We have managed to minimise the redundancies and will relocate staff if we can.

There has been a very thorough consultation. We have tried to do it with as much sensitivity and compassion as possible.

But the best education of students has to be the priority.”

One parent, who did not want to be named, said: “The problem has been the lack of communication with parents.

It is not fair on pupils who want to make the best of themselves. Families need to be able to plan a long way ahead.”

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