School sixth form faces closure in Sheffield

A secondary school in Sheffield has set out proposals to close its sixth form, blaming the ‘drastic and regrettable’ move on a lack of funding and difficulties with recruiting enough students.

If the closure is approved by the Government following a consultation that ends next month, no Year 11 students would go on to study their A-levels at Bradfield School from this September – and instead would be sent to other sixth forms if they achieve good GCSE grades.

Bradfield School, near Worrall, Sheffield.

Bradfield School, near Worrall, Sheffield.

Bradfield was deemed to require improvement at its last Ofsted inspection in 2017, which came shortly after the school reported disappointing exam results. Governors say the school has overspent, bringing about a recovery in standards, but that it is likely to end the current academic year deep in the red with a budget deficit of more than £800,000.

The average number of students enrolled at Bradfield’s sixth form has stood at 147 since 2014, when guidance says places with fewer than 300 students struggle to be viable. It began taking 16 to 19-year-olds in 2013 following a community campaign and offers 23 A-level courses, but has never achieved its ambition of building a dedicated sixth form block, leading students to choose rival schools and colleges with dedicated facilities such as dining spaces and common rooms.

Governors argue that Bradfield is languishing among the bottom 50 worst-funded schools in the country, and that they expected income to be boosted by around £600,000 per year with the introduction of the Government’s National Funding Formula. However, the timetable for the formula’s implementation has been pushed back. 

“We know that, this year, operating the sixth form is costing us £292,000 more than we receive in funding, or £1,600 per sixth form student,” a public consultation document says.

Reducing the size of the school’s leadership team, and making savings from the workforce, are also proposed by the governors and headteacher Dr Ian Gilbert to cut costs.

“Schools cannot lawfully go into debt, and the only way that we stayed afloat last year was through a large loan from the Education & Skills Funding Agency,” the consultation document says. “We will require a further, even larger, loan this year. Understandably, ESFA is only likely to release that loan if the governing body can present a credible plan to balance the budget.”

If the closure goes ahead, the 73 students presently in Year 12 would continue into Year 13 at Bradfield, completing their studies as planned. An arrangement has been secured for all of those in Year 11 who meet the entry requirements to be guaranteed a sixth form place at the Tapton or Forge Valley schools in Crosspool and Stannington. Talks are being held about a similar arrangement for future Year 11 pupils.

“If we were to keep the sixth form and found other ways to balance the books, we would be doing so by taking out funding that was intended for students’ education pre-16,” governors say. “We don’t believe that would be fair or proper. Other options for trying to reduce the cost of the sixth form, such as reducing the range of subjects offered would reduce the attractiveness of Bradfield School’s sixth form to prospective students. Ultimately, we feel we would arrive at exactly the same point, but having spent more money delaying the inevitable.”

They add: “This is a drastic and regrettable proposition, but one that we believe is necessary to preserve the future viability of the school.”

Bradfield became an academy in 2012, and now wants to join a multi-academy trust. Both Tapton and Forge Valley are part of the Tapton School Academy Trust – in 2018, 15 Tapton sixth form students gained places at Oxford or Cambridge.

“Our longer-term future to provide the best possible education for current and future students lies in joining a multi-academy trust,” say governors. “We will not be able to join any MAT until we have stabilised our
budget and have an agreement with ESFA on how our accumulated deficit will be managed.”

The school said in a statement: “The possible closure of the sixth form is something we are having to consider with a very heavy heart as a result of our funding situation. We understand the distress this may have caused Year 11 students and their families and are working hard to try and find a solution for all our children as they move into Year 12. This is not something we are considering lightly. Staff at this school should be praised for putting a great deal of work into creating our A-level courses and preparing our students for university over recent years.”

All alternative options have been looked at, the school says.

The secondary, in Worrall on the edge of the Peak District, opened in 1957. It specialises in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – with the motto ‘where people thrive’. Six years ago it moved into new £20 million premises.

The consultation ends on February 26. A meeting of governors is to be held in March when a decision will be made. The Department for Education would need to grant approval for the closure this summer.

Visit https://bit.ly/2Mo2qGo to see the consultation survey. Paper copies are available from school reception. Email 6thconsultation@bradfield.sheffield.sch.uk for more information.