Battle lines are being drawn at Westminster as well as locally in a bid to save sixth form state education in Lytham St Annes.
Fylde’s biggest school, Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College, has launched a consultation over the prospect of dropping its sixth form from September 2018 because of a funding crisis – and Fylde MP Mark Menzies has pledged to do all he can to try to help.
The MP has already raised the issue with ministers and was due to meet with them as The Express went to press.
Meanwhile, a group of former students and teachers have set up a Facebook page ‘Save Lytham St Annes Sixth Form’, which has quickly attracted scores of followers.
Mr Menzies met headteacher Philip Wood for talks last week and is urging parents and any other concerned parties to have their say during the consultation, which runs until January 20, with a final decision on the future of the Years 12 and 13 education at the school – still popularly known by its old name of Lytham St Annes High School – expected in March.
Since September 2015, the High School has supplied academic sixth form education at the Lytham Sixth Form College adjacent to its main building in partnership with Blackpool and The Fylde College, whichspecialises in the traditionally more vocational courses and stress that, whatever the outcome of the consultation, it will continue to be ‘business as usual’ for them.
Mr Wood told a meeting of parents this week that the decision to consider dropping the sixth form was very much ‘a last resort’ by the school’s governors.
The number of sixth form students on the school’s roll had fallen to just 93 this year compared to 222 in 2013-14, he said, and a combination of the falling roll at that age range, no increase in funding for the school for seven years and extra expenditure on staff wage increases had led to an anticipated deficit of more than £700,000 by 2018.
“We anticipate that the financial picture will show a major improvement, hopefully into surplus, by 2020-21 but the rules are that any deficit needs clearing within three years,” said the headteacher.
“The education authority has insisted we submit a recovery plan and restructuring the school to 11-16 years is crucial part of that.”
Mr Wood said losing the sixth form from 2018 was expected to save some £400,000.
“The remainder of the savings would have to be made from the 11-16 operation but it would be unfair on that section of the school for the whole amount to have be saved there for the sake of what is a major falling roll of sixth formers,” he said.
“After feedback from students that they wanted sixth form here to have a different atmosphere - more of a halfway house between school and university - we went into partnership with the College to try and achieve that but the numbers have been disappointing and we can’t wait for them to improve.
“There is ever-increasing competition from other sixth form colleges and, for whatever reason, many 16-year-olds are choosing to continue their education elsewhere.”
Former sixth form teacher Ken Cridland said at the meeting that the governors’ proposal is “a spreadsheet solution to an educational problem, but not an educational solution” while another retired sixth form teacher Maura Goodier said: “It would be scandalous if Lytham St Annes was to have no state sixth form. We must do all we can to stop this happening.”
The Save Lytham St Annes Sixth Form Facebook site was set up by former head boy Marcus Pickering, with Maura as a fellow administrator, and within hours attracted more than 80 followers.
Marcus said: “We have created the group to start to gather the views and experiences of those who have been part of the Sixth Form over time. We will be looking at how we can best work together to save the Sixth Form.”
Mr Menzies said: “The most important thing that parents can do now is to take part in the consultation being held by the school.
“It is vital we have a clear picture of what the young people, the parents, and the staff think before we move forward.
“When I attended a meeting at the school last week, I was adamant that the sixth form should continue.
“However, after hearing the views of the headteacher, I am now less clear about what is the best course of action for the school.
“There are obvious funding concerns when the school offers a German A Level and only two students return to study.
“A course needs 18 students to cover costs – and colleges are offering more courses than schools are able to.
“It is critical that all interested parties take part in the consultation so that I can do all I can to support the school and all those involved in the process.”
With ministers are expected to announce shortly the introduction of a national funding formula for schools, the MP added: “I’m going to raise the points Mr Wood has raised and I understand that formula should increase funding for Lancashire schools.”
If the move to drop sixth form education at the school goes ahead, it would mean there would be no recruitment to academic courses taught by the school’s staff from September next year because students starting A-level courses then would not be able to complete their two-year courses before the proposal’s potential implementation.
Catherine Hill, Blackpool and The Fylde College’s deputy principal, emphasising that whatever the outcome it would be ‘business as usual’ for them from 2018, added: “Unfortunately, Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College has decided to review its A-level curriculum. Our focus remains on continuing to provide our high-quality technical and professional courses.
“I want to reassure our students that their education will remain unaffected and we look forward to recruiting more students into Lytham Sixth Form College.”
Details of the consultation are available on the school’s website www.lythamhigh.lancs.sch.uk, and comments should be sent by January 20 to Sarah Hirst, Skills, Learning and Development Service, CCP Ground Floor, PO Box 100, County Hall, Preston, PR1 0LD or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.