Eton given green light to open selective sixth forms in disadvantaged areas

Simon Henderson, headmaster of Eton College (left), and Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies. Credit: PA

One of the most prestigious private schools in the country is set to open three free selective sixth form colleges in disadvantaged areas.

Eton College, a boarding school near Windsor in Berkshire, and academy trust Star Academies will set up schools in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham after the Department for Education (DfE) approved the plans.

They will be aimed at students aged 16-19 and will recruit young people from deprived communities to help them secure places at top universities.

The schools will be called Eton Star Dudley, Eton Star Oldham and Eton Star Teesside,

Eton College, where many of the country’s prime ministers studied, will contribute approximately £1 million a year per college on top of current funding levels – which is about £2,000 per year for each student.

The new school's students will also have a chance to attend a summer school each year at Eton College as part of the partnership.

It comes after Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham were all listed in the government’s 55 education “cold spots” in England.

They were identified as having the weakest education outcomes – as part of its levelling up agenda.

The new school students will not need to wear the school's traditional black tailcoats. Credit: PA

In February last year, the DfE said the 55 “education investment areas”, which were selected to raise school standards, would be prioritised for new specialist sixth forms.

Each Eton Star sixth form will admit 240 students a year, meaning there will be 480 students across Year 12 and Year 13 in each college when full.

A spokesperson for Eton College and Star Academies said the aim is that most of the students are able to aspire to top universities and “this will be reflected in the GCSE results they will need for admission”.

But the focus will be to admit large numbers of students eligible for Free School Meals, those from disadvantaged postcodes, looked after children, and those who would be the first in their families to attend university.

The colleges will be co-educational, unlike Eton, and the students will not wear the traditional Eton uniform of a black tailcoat, the spokesperson said.

The DfE has approved 15 new free schools – which includes the three Eton Star sixth forms – in parts of the country where education outcomes are weakest, and it said about 12,000 young people will benefit.

A northern version of the Brit School, which has nurtured performers such as Adele and Amy Winehouse, is among the free school applications approved.

Plans have also been approved for two university technical colleges (UTCs), one new all-through school for pupils aged four to 16, a primary school, two secondary schools and a further five 16-19 free schools.

Education Minister Gillian Keegan. Credit: PA

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We want to make more good school places available to families, and these 15 new free schools will bring brand new opportunities to young people from Bradford to Bristol.

“Free schools bring high standards, more choice for parents and strong links to industry – and all in the areas where those opportunities are needed most.”

Simon Henderson, headmaster of Eton College, said: “We believe these new colleges have the potential to be transformative both for the young people who attend and for the wider communities they will serve. Now the hard work really starts as we turn our vision into reality."

Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies, said: “We are confident that the Eton Star sixth forms will produce extraordinary, transformative outcomes, not only for their students but for the wider communities too.

“With a growing demand for sixth form places in these areas, we aim to enable more young people to benefit from a high-quality academic education and to broaden the opportunities available to them both during and after their sixth form studies.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said they were “concerned” about the extent to which decisions by government, about which sixth form free school bids to approve, are based on detailed evidence demonstrating local need for additional places.

He said: “We are aware that some high-profile examples announced today were trailed in the media before applications had even opened, and long before evidence could be gathered.

“In some cases, what evidence is available does not point to an established track record of success in sixth form provision.

“The result is that some new, untried and untested free schools are set to open in communities where there is already sufficient, high-quality provision, while areas with much greater need of additional high-quality, sixth form places continue to be neglected.

"This presents the risk of existing and high-performing sixth form provision being unnecessarily disrupted.”

But Mr Watkin welcomed the establishment of 16-19 schools in areas where “there is an identified need” amid the rising 18-year-old population.

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