Last year a group of Calderdale Headteachers and senior leaders visited the borough of Camden in London to observe their ground breaking approach to Post 16 collaboration.
The collaborative system known as La Swap supports high standards across the borough’s schools and boosts choice for the students attending the schools there.
The lessons learned on the visit have been implemented and this term Brighouse High and The Brooksbank School embarked on a collaborative approach to Post 16 delivery. Other schools quickly joined the initiative including Crossley Heath and Lightcliffe Academy.
There are now 41 students involved accessing A level lessons out side of their own institution and the scheme looks set to grow as several other high schools show an interest in being involved.
The new approach increases the range of options open to students across the east of Calderdale and also allows a degree of specialism in the delivery of post 16 courses. Some A levels are also delivered jointly; with expert sixth form staff collaborating on subjects such as Physics and Further Maths.
Transport is provided for students to access courses and schools cooperate on induction programmes and tracking of progress. The work is at an early stage but feedback from students and teachers alike is extremely positive. Students appreciate the extra choices that collaboration brings and enjoy the chance to mix with students from different colleges and schools.
Research suggests that collaborative 6th forms are the future. The approach was recommended to Headteachers by the Association of School and College Leaders advisor Kevin Gilmartin who completed an in depth study of the Post 16 offer in Calderdale last year.
The approach allows schools to retain an 11-18 intake; a key factor in attracting high quality teachers and allows a more varied option choice for sixth formers. Some pupils certainly decide that the best option is to go to college at 16 with many choosing Calderdale college for a vocational route or one of the large Post 16 colleges in Kirklees. But a significant number of students and families still want to continue their sixth form career in a school setting.
The collaborative initiative will ensure that this remains a viable option into the future. Although tentative plans to explore a Post 16 college option are being explored research suggests that this is not a viable solution. Provision in the two grammar school sixth forms and nearby colleges in Kirklees mean that there simply is no demand for another stand alone sixth form institution.
Applications to open a Post 16 Free School in the town centre have been declined by the government on three separate occasions. It is clear that a different type of quality solution needs to be developed and shared provision is most certainly the answer.
We were grateful to the Headteachers of Camden and the Chair of Governors of LaSwap, Fiona Millar (Guardian Education columnist) for sharing their experiences with us. The key lesson learned is that collaboration can work and that a cooperative rather than competitive approach is vital if we are to secure positive outcomes for the young people of Calderdale in the future.
The Brighouse High Sixth Form Centre working within this collaborative arrangement retains its unique identity as a separate college within a school setting. Results reached record levels in the Summer with the average grade achieved being a B and over 50% of grades gained being at A*-B. Liz Cresswell, Headteacher describes being particularly proud of this achievement given that the college has an open entry policy.
College life involves much more than academic study of course. All students at Brighouse High have a chance to take part in a week long work experience programme which encourages them to try out career plans and broaden their horizons. Placements this year were as far afield as Manchester and London.
The students also follow enrichment courses such as the Progression Module and the Extended Project Qualification and many take part in the Duke OF Edinburgh Gold Award. Through the new collaborative there are plans for a sports tournament, Battle of the Bands and a Calderdale University Challenge competition.
Students are universally positive about the experience the 6th form offers and speak positively about the broader choices the collaboration brings. A group of five male students are accessing a Level 3 Btec Sports course at Brooksbank School; this would not have been possible without the shared timetable arrangements.
Students from Crossley Heath and Brooksbank travel to Brighouse to study A level French. They value the experience of working in a larger group and developing their language skills in a collaborative setting. Politics is another subject which has a large collaborative intake; students enjoy the chance to debate with their peers from a different institution.
Creative subjects such as Photography are also shared across the participating schools ensuring that high quality resourcing and teaching is provided to facilitate the delivery of such a specialist subject.
Senior Leaders from the four participating schools met recently to plan further shared developments for the future and look forward to other secondary partners joining next year.