Another blow for Council’s knockers

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Star Academies and Eton College have today announced a plan to bid to open an academic sixth form free school in Oldham, as new Leader, Cllr Arooj Shah continues to drive the town forward on all fronts.

The new post-16 college is being designed to help give young people who have done well in their GCSEs the opportunity to achieve the A-levels they need to go to Oxbridge and other elite universities.

The partners intend to bid in the next wave of the Department for Education’s Free School Programme, a process expected to get underway in the next few months, with a view to the colleges welcoming their first students as soon as 2025. Political leaders in Oldham are fully supportive – and are assisting the development of the proposals.

If the bids is successful, the new college will be part of Star Academies, which runs both primary and secondary schools in communities which face significant challenges, including in the North and further afield in the West Midlands. It is, by many measures, one of the best-performing multi-academy trusts in the country. The colleges will be overseen by a joint partnership board of representatives of Eton and Star Academies, which is chaired by Peter McKee a Star trustee and Eton’s Vice-Provost.

These co-educational colleges would include access to some of Eton’s best teachers, its clubs and its speaker events. Eton will also help students prepare for university applications and interviews and every year students will be invited to take part in a summer residential at Eton itself.  The colleges’ small size will allow them to target a very specific academic education and will ensure that they do not disrupt the existing pattern of local post-16 education.

The curriculum is a tried and tested model, based on that of the London Academy of Excellence, a school that is sending 33 students from Newham, one of the capital’s most deprived boroughs, to Oxbridge this year. All students will start by taking four A-level courses, with a proportion dropping down to three once they are established at the school.

The admissions policies – designed in conjunction with University College London’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities – will be developed to specifically target young people who would most benefit on an ongoing basis. Each college is expected to admit 240 students per year.

Eton is committed to making an ongoing financial commitment to all three colleges in perpetuity, to ensure the development and provision of a deep and extensive curriculum offer guaranteed to be provided in the long term.

Oldham Council is said to be hugely enthusiastic in their support for the bids, recognising the contribution the new college could make to the young people in the Borough.

The East Lancashire mill town was selected following a major research and consultation exercise that identified where there was most need for a college that could stretch high achieving young people in their sixth form years.

Councillor Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council, said: “My first and foremost responsibility is to fight for Oldham and draw in support and investment from every corner. I’ll work across political and ideological divides to make that happen.

“For a young person growing up in Oldham, this is really exciting news, and comes after a lot of hard work behind the scenes with Eton, and with Star, to make this fantastic idea a reality.

“Eton and Star both have an outstanding reputation in providing the very best education – and that’s why I’m delighted that we can bring this incredible opportunity here to Oldham. 

“This new sixth form will open up world-class academic opportunities for Oldham’s young people– providing an unrivalled educational experience that will enable every child, wherever they live and whatever their background, to fulfil their potential.

“Together with the outstanding Sixth Form College, school sixth forms and Oldham College, we are a family which recognises we have a generational responsibility to invest in young people so they realise their full potential.

“This project will improve opportunities and education outcomes for not just the families who live here now, but for generations to come.”

Star Academies Chief Executive Sir Mufti Hamid Patel CBE said: “This marks an exciting milestone in our partnership. By harnessing our combined wealth of educational and operational expertise, we are confident that our colleges will produce extraordinary, transformative outcomes, not only for their students but for the wider communities too. Our mission has always been to change lives for the better and to open doors for young people to access the best opportunities, but these colleges will have a wider, positive impact throughout the communities of Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham. They will become anchor institutions that make a significant contribution by playing a leading role in addressing skills shortages and helping to drive up standards in education.”

Head Master of Eton, Simon Henderson, said: “We are delighted to be bidding to open these colleges in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham. Our partnership with Star is intended to ensure that the success of the project is greater than the sum of its part. While our contexts may be different, our values are aligned and together we are committed, for the long-term, to sharing our educational vision and delivering outstanding educational opportunities to young people in these areas.”  

Alun Francis, Principal of Oldham College, said: “We are really pleased that Star Academies and Eton College will be joining us in Oldham and contributing to our levelling-up plans.

“We will be focusing on different aspects of the challenges we have locally. But we have a lot of shared values and ambitions and our college is keen for us to learn from each other. We are excited to be working with them both.

“This is a very exciting development and hopefully the first of a series of initiatives which we believe will help Oldham move forward.”

Page last updated: Thursday 10th March, 2022 at 2135 hours

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Picture credit: Oldham Council

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Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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