EDUCATION bosses in South Tyneside are at loggerheads over the creation of a new borough sixth form college.
St Wilfrid’s RC College, in Temple Park Road, South Shields, is set to provide post-16 education for up to 198 pupils from September.
As part of a consultation process over the move, headteachers and governors at borough schools were approached for their views – and the plan has divided opinion.
Claire Mullane, headteacher at Mortimer Community College, in Reading Road, South Shields, expressed concern that it would be a “direct threat” to her own school’s future.
She believes the borough already has sufficient sixth form provision – at Harton Technology College in South Shields and St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Hebburn.
In a response, presented to South Tyneside Council, she said: “Projected student numbers in South Tyneside are on a negative trajectory. There is a question as to whether the current post-16 provision can be sustained when the numbers of students across the borough are declining.
“Therefore, another sixth form would further dilute the numbers, raising concerns regarding viability of some post-16 provision.”
She added: “There is a direct threat to the future of Mortimer Community College. St Wilfrid’s is approximately 150 metres away.
“Any school which can boast a sixth form is more likely to attract the more able students, creating a skewed intake toward the lower ability range at Mortimer.
“Mortimer will be squeezed between St Wilfrid’s on one side and Harton on the other. They will be direct competition within the same catchment area.”
The proposal would not prove an obstacle to a “positive and constructive professional relationship” between the two schools,” she added.
David Baldwin, executive director at South Shields Community School, also expressed reservations over the plan.
He said: “This is about a single school and its students and the advantages of this provision could be the same at at any 11 to 16 school.
“Will it, therefore, potentially set a precedent for other 11 to 16 schools seeking to establish similar provision?
“Increased post-16 provision in an already crowded market may make the delivery of post-education more problematic across all providers.”
The proposed new sixth form would increase the pupil capacity at St Wilfrid’s from 900 to 1,098.The change, which was endorsed by the council’s cabinet last week and will come into effect on September 1 this year, does not need planning permission as it does not require any structural alterations at the school.
The new sixth form plan did receive the support of Lindsey Whiterod, chief executive at South Tyneside College, and Ken Smithson, headteacher at St Gregory’s RC School in South Shields, among others.
In a report presented to the council’s cabinet, Brendan Tapping, headteacher at St Wilfrid’s, outlined the ethos behind the change.
He said: “The objective is to improve the range of quality and choice of provision for pupils wishing to remain in South Tyneside post-16 instead of migrating to other local authority provision.
“The proposal would offer a choice for students in the east of South Tyneside and would enhance the existing post-16 provision in the borough.
“The school already offers post-16 provision in collaboration with the Cardinal Hume Catholic School in Gateshead, and this has little or no impact on other post-16 providers in South Tyneside.”
Mr Tapping was unavailable for comment yesterday.