THE GOVERNMENT MUST ACT QUICKLY TO ENSURE THE FUTURE OF A LEVEL PROVISION IN KNOWSLEY
Two weeks ago the Schools Minister Lord Nash announced he would be closing Halewood Academy Sixth Form in my constituency. It follows a lengthy, high profile campaign that I have led alongside parents and pupils against such a move. I am therefore disappointed at the Government’s decision to go ahead with the closure, not least because it will leave the entire Borough of Knowsley without any A Level provision. There is no other local authority in England which is as highly populated as Knowsley, where there is no A Level provision. It is totally unacceptable.
Now that the decision has been reached to close Halewood Academy Sixth Form, the Government must act fast to ensure that A Level provision is made available within the borough at the earliest opportunity and certainly by the academic year starting September 2017.
The closure is not only completely impractical for my constituents, it also sends the wrong message to young people across the borough. It places a cap on their aspirations by closing off options available to them locally and making it more difficult for them to attend A Level providers in other parts of Merseyside, at great personal cost. In making this decision, the Tory Government are not only wrecking the educational chances of young people in the borough but also deterring families who might want to move to Knowsley from doing so. Good schools and educational provision are often the top considerations for people with children who are looking to move to any particular area and so this decision has far reaching consequences.
My constituents who first raised this with me at my advice surgery in March were rightly worried about the impact the proposed closure would have on their children who were already enrolled at the academy and studying for AS and A Levels. Some of the parents had younger children enrolled at the academy in the years below and were concerned about the lack of options that would be available to their children once they turned 16. Many parents debated whether to move their children to another school where they could be sure they could stay on to study A Levels. It has been a period of great uncertainty for pupils and parents and has come at the worst possible time for pupils who have been trying to revise for exams.
Subsequently, I requested meetings with the Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan MP, the Regional Schools Commissioner Vicky Beer, and the Principal of Halewood Academy, Gary Evans. I also wrote to Knowsley Council and to other Knowsley MPs so that we could work together to ensure a positive outcome for the people of Knowsley.
When I met with the RSC on 13th April there were some assurances given about the future of A Level provision in the borough but I was dissatisfied that there would be a gap of at least a year where there would be no A Level provision at all. I therefore requested that the Education Funding Agency provide funding to Halewood Academy so that its Sixth Form could remain open until alternative A Level provision was established in the borough; a request which was declined.
After my request to meet the Secretary of State was refused, I was finally offered a meeting with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP, which took place on 7th June and was attended by officials from the Department of Education, the Regional Schools Commissioner, Knowsley MPs, as well as officers from Knowsley Council.
At that meeting it was agreed that A Level provision should be made available within Knowsley Borough and that is what we are now all working towards. I will continue to keep the pressure on the Government to ensure that quality A Level provision is available to young people in the borough by September 2017.
I also want to ensure that those who want to continue their post-16 education at A Level providers outside of the borough are given as much support as possible and I am seeking clarification as to what transport options and financial support might be available to those young people. I urge the Government to do everything it can to ensure that there is not a prolonged period whereby local young people are having to travel outside the borough in order to continue their education.
There are lessons to be learnt from the way that the closure of Halewood Academy Sixth Form was managed. The Government’s determination to pursue an ideologically driven education policy and force academisation on our schools, has put our local community under great strain. It is unsurprising that Knowlsey has received so much national media coverage as a result of this, it is unprecedented. The City of London and Isles of Scilly are the only other local authority areas in England without A Level provision and their residential populations are significantly lower than Knowsley’s. As Multi-Academy Trust’s assume responsibility for education provision in local authorities, it is important that the relationship between them as the provider and the people they serve is not lost.