Sixth forms being squeezed by education policy, says former chief inspector

The government’s former chief schools inspector told a teacher conference he believes sixth forms are being squeezed by apprenticeships and the manic rush to create academies and free schools.

Ex-Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw told the forum at Christ the King Sixth Form that colleges are doing better than schools for 16-18-year-olds, despite funding pressures.

But he warned that education is “running out of road in terms of raising standards”.

Sir Michael, the keynote speaker at a teacher conference at Christ the King Sixth Form  one of the largest and most successful 16-18 providers in London and the South East said: “The evidence clearly demonstrates that you outperform school sixth forms, especially for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

He said political attention had been monopolised by the drive to set up academies and free schools. He added: “The thrust has been to set up schools however small and underperforming, as long as they are academies or free schools. Or grammars – I could spend all day on that one.

‘Your sector is being squeezed by drive to skills sector and manic rush to create academies and free schools.”

He added that there was a huge problem about capacity; a lack of teachers, and the high quality ones not being evenly spread. “It’s a resource issue,” said Sir Michael, who admitted none of his three children had decided to work in schools. “If we carry on like this we’re going to run out of teachers and road in terms of raising standards.

“It’s no good [politicians] saying [teacher recruitment was top priority] now. It’s never been good in terms of recruitment and retention.

“‘Is it [teaching] sexy enough? We’re hemorrhaging teachers abroad – places like Dubai – where the pay is better and the conditions are better.”

Sir Michael said that the enormous improvements in standards were partly due to initiatives such as the pupil premium, which is extra government funding to teach disadvantaged pupils.

He added: “It’s not all about money, but money pays a big part.’”

Sir Michael stressed the biggest and most urgent national concern was social mobility. “Why are we not getting enough poor children to top universities?” he said. “It can only be done through education.”

 Around 1,000 Christ the King students a year progress to university, many in the elite Russell Group. “That is an increidible testimony to your work,” he said.

Sir Michael added after the conference: “‘We need more money in education. You [the sector] can’t do much more with the resources you’ve got.”

Christ the King Collegiate Principal Rob McAuliffe said it had been a thrill to have Sir Michael address the teaching staff at the start of the school year, adding: ‘We’re delighted to have been able to attract such a high-calibre key speaker, and his support for the work of sixth forms such as Christ the King was truly uplifting. Our students achieved some exceptional A-level results this year and are heading off to some of the best universities in the country. While, as Sir Michael said, funding pressures remain a challenge in the post-16 sector, the Christ the King community goes from strength to strength.’

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