Over the past week I have been contacted by a number of Year 12 pupils at Avon Valley College and their parents, who have been shocked by news that the sixth form is likely to close at the end of this academic year.
On Monday I spoke with Sam Johnston, Principal at Avon Valley College, who has explained the circumstances that have led to this very difficult decision. Avon Valley College underwent an ambitious expansion plan to accommodate pupils who were expected to move into the area as part of the Army Basing Programme, when troops returned from Germany to Wiltshire. I was pleased to visit last year and was very impressed with the new Sixth Form buildings, which were meant to house significantly greater numbers of pupils than the college has seen.
Mr Johnston told me that, with 80 per cent of Avon Valley’s Year 11 students choosing other providers each year, the Sixth Form has become financially unviable. A much lower intake than expected, coupled with changes to grant funding, has meant this position is very unlikely to change. A number of formal consultation processes will now begin before it is confirmed that the Sixth Form will close, but on the basis of the facts above it does not seem likely that the current Year 12s will be able to remain at the college for Year 13, to see out their exams.
While I appreciate the difficult position the College is in, and its ultimate responsibility to manage its finances sustainably, I am concerned that predictions on student numbers were so wrong - with significant capital costs having gone into a new building and a large number of students interrupted in the middle of their Sixth Form studies. Someone has blundered, and I expect Wiltshire Council and the trustees of Avon Valley to investigate to prevent anything similar happening in future. Once the consultation process is concluded I will write to both parties with that request.
Understandably, the affected students are now very anxious about where they will finish their Sixth Form education, and are facing disruption as they transfer to new providers. I have been assured that places will be available for pupils on their relevant courses, and I understand the plan will be for students to transfer to new providers as soon as possible to minimise disruption. Avon Valley also expects to contribute towards any travel costs faced by students who currently study close to home, and will in future need to travel.
It is very sad that it has come to this point. I have great sympathy for all involved, particularly the students who have already faced significant disruption to their learning over the past year. I hope the process of finding suitable provision for all students affected will be as seamless as possible and I will continue to monitor developments closely.