Axminster sixth form delegation to meet MP

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Martin Brook during Tuesday’s public consultation meeting

AXMINSTER mayor Jeremy Walden, county councillor Ian Hall, Axe Valley Academy headteacher Steve Green and Vector Learning Trust CEO Martin Brook will meet MP Neil Parish on Friday for talks about the proposed sixth form closure.

Those attending the public consultation meeting in the academy’s main hall on Tuesday evening were told that the delegation, which might also include a student and a parent, will ask the MP for help and “present a strong case”.

The learning trust, which is made up of Axe Valley Academy and Holyrood Academy in Chard, dropped a bombshell on Axminster when recommending to close the sixth form there in 2019 because of increasing financial pressure from government underfunding.

There has been a particular reduction in the amount received per sixth form student, so many schools with small sixth forms have supplemented post-16 provision from budgets allocated to 11-16 year olds.

In Axe Valley Academy’s case the figure is about £500,000 a year, and is expected to increase, according to Mr Brook.

Mr Green told Pulman’s Weekly News: “Over the last five years, the maximum amount that a full-time student is funded has fallen from £4,816 to £4,000.

“However, per pupil funding is affected by the number of guided learning hours that a student has on their timetable and our retention rate (i.e. the percentage of students who complete their courses). Therefore the average per pupil funding is lower than these maximum values.”

The Axe Valley sixth form currently consists of 71 students, with some classes having as few as one or two students.

The Department of Education advises that a sixth form needs 200-plus students to make it financially viable.

Mr Brook told the public meeting: “Nobody would want to close sixth form by choice.”

Messrs Brook and Green said they had looked long and hard for ways to retain the sixth form, but there simply isn’t enough money.

“It is about funding and not being able to afford,” Mr Brook said.

They were bombarded with tough questions from a passionate crowd and denied speculation that resources were not shared fairly between Holyrood Academy and Axe Valley Academy, and that the former would benefit from a sixth form closure at the latter.

Mr Green said that Axe Valley Academy “has leant heavily” on Holyrood Academy financially and for other support over the last 18 months.

Mr Brook said he thought it would be more practical for Axminster students to jump on a train to Exeter College rather than go to Chard.

Full report to come.

Consultation papers are available online at http://axevalley.devon.sch.uk/parent/consultation/

Chief Reporter | Started his working life on a farm before becoming a screen printer, both in Sweden. Had another career change and turned to journalism in the mid1990s. Enjoyed an internship with Alexandria Gazette Packet, Va, USA, before moving to the UK. Got a job with The Clarion in Yeovil in 1998, but moved to Axminster in 2006 and has worked on the East Devon beat since.

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