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Isherwood: Sixth Forms must have a future in Wales

Welsh Conservatives warn against taking power from LEAs.

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"These proposals are just more top-down diktat by a meddling Minister taking powers from LEAs and hiding behind the skirts of an unelected quango because, once again, she is not prepared to take ministerial responsibility.

Is this not a classic case of the head girl who loads the bullets and leaves someone else to fire the gun?

This supposedly terribly good report states that the purpose of these regulations 'is to address the anomaly whereby ELWa has the planning and funding responsibility for all post-16 education and training (excluding HE), but has very limited powers with respect to the organisation of the delivery of post-16 education through school sixth forms.'

Clearly, this anomaly does exist, but this control-freak Minister has got the answer the wrong way round. Instead of telling, she should start listening to the growing call across Welsh schools and colleges for ELWa to be replaced by a local partnership funding to deliver cost-effectively and by local partnership planning according to local and regional need.

This report is correct in stating that the rationalisation of sixth-form provision will impact on 16 to 19 learners in Wales, on schools, on FE institutions and work-based learning, on religious bodies providing education and on education professionals.

Let us therefore cut out the middle man and let those bodies decide, in a working partnership with local education authorities, local businesses, learners and parents, and marry planning, funding and delivery at the chalkface rather than at the brass face.

Option A in this report complains that not making regulations would result in proposals to rationalise sixth-form provision in an area being dependent upon the willingness of local education authorities and school governing bodies to bring them forward.

Surely that is the ideal situation. Does this not expose the looking-glass world in which this dictatorial and dogmatic Minister exists—ignoring the detail, disregarding the resources and rushing ahead with delegated initiatives before moving on remorselessly to the next 'terribly good' thing?

The bottom line is that this initiative is not about adding value, but about cutting unit costs. It is not about analysis of educational need, but about ensuring parity of funding between school sixth forms and sixth-form colleges by reducing the money that sixth forms receive.

Let us be honest: this is not about the expansion of sixth forms, but about a so-called rationalisation that places sixth forms under serious threat.

It is self-evident that sixth forms have smaller numbers of pupils than further education colleges, and, therefore, economies of scale inevitably mean that the cost of educating a sixth-form pupil will always be more than the cost of educating a student in a further education college.

My eldest child is in a sixth form, whereas the next eldest will attend a further education college. That is what is right for them as individuals. Choice and opportunity, not prescription and ideology, are the right of future generations.

We must have different pathways, based on parity of esteem, which meet the needs of the lost children failed by our schools, and of the academic children who thrive in our schools. We must recognise that sixth forms are a vital part of whole-school communities, which will be cruelly dismembered by these proposals, and this concern is not limited to schools with sixth forms.

Concern was expressed in a headteachers' meeting in Gwynedd that schools without sixth forms will also suffer as a consequence of schools with sixth forms losing out in the new post-16 funding formula.

ELWa's three-year corporate plan states that further education and sixth-form organisational funding is to be modernised in a new national planning and funding system.

This does not herald modernisation, but further top-down bureaucracy and waste by a spend more, deliver less, Welsh Assembly Government and its quangos, which measure success by expenditure rather than outcomes.

The disgraceful reality is that learners and teachers throughout Wales are paying the price for a Minister whose spending black hole has created a funding crisis in our further education colleges, death by a thousand cuts in our schools, and, now, cuts in our higher education institutions. Enough is enough."

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