Eton College: Government greenlights free sixth-form college plans to be opened in three English towns

Pupils at Eton College hurry between lessons March 1, 2004 wearing the school uniform of tailcoats and starched collars, in Eton, England. (Image: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images)
Pupils at Eton College hurry between lessons March 1, 2004 wearing the school uniform of tailcoats and starched collars, in Eton, England. (Image: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images)

Eton College's plans to open selective sixth-form centres in three English towns have been approved.

The world-renowned boarding school near Windsor in Berkshire, has teamed up with academy trust Star Academies to set up three state sixth forms.

The sixth-forms will be in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham planning to offer "transformative outcomes" for young people in disadvantaged areas.

The age 16-19 free schools, which will be called Eton Star Dudley, Eton Star Oldham and Eton Star Teesside, will aim to recruit young people from deprived communities and help them secure places at top universities.

Eton College, where many of the country’s prime ministers studied, will contribute approximately £1 million a year per college on top of current funding levels – around £2,000 per year for each student.

Each of the sixth-form colleges will admit 240 students a year, and have 480 students across Year 12 and Year 13 when full.

Students from the state sixth forms will also have a chance to attend a summer school each year at Eton College as part of the partnership.

The plans come after Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham were all listed in the Government’s 55 education “cold spots” in England – those identified as having the weakest education outcomes – as part of its levelling up agenda.

In February last year, the Department of Education (DfE) said the 55 “education investment areas”, which were selected to raise school standards, would be prioritised for new specialist sixth forms.

A spokesperson for Eton College and Star Academies said the aim is that most of the students will have the ability to aspire to top universities and “this will be reflected in the GCSE results they will need for admission”.

But the focus will be to admit large numbers of students eligible for Free School Meals, those from disadvantaged postcodes, looked after children, and those who would be the first in their families to attend university.

The colleges will be co-educational, unlike Eton, and the students will not wear the traditional Eton uniform of a black tailcoat, the spokesperson said.

The DfE has approved 15 new free schools – which includes the three Eton Star sixth forms – in parts of the country where education outcomes are weakest, and it said about 12,000 young people will benefit.

A northern version of the Brit School, which has nurtured performers such as Adele and Amy Winehouse, is among the free school applications approved.

Plans have also been approved for two university technical colleges (UTCs), one new all-through school for pupils aged four to 16, a primary school, two secondary schools and a further five 16-19 free schools.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We want to make more good school places available to families, and these 15 new free schools will bring brand new opportunities to young people from Bradford to Bristol.

“Free schools bring high standards, more choice for parents and strong links to industry – and all in the areas where those opportunities are needed most.”

Simon Henderson, headmaster of Eton College, said: “We believe these new colleges have the potential to be transformative both for the young people who attend and for the wider communities they will serve. Now the hard work really starts as we turn our vision into reality.

“Collaborative partnership will be key to this project’s success and we are very grateful for the support we have had already from the respective councils, from the local communities and from our colleagues in other educational settings.”

Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies, said: “This marks an exciting milestone in our partnership. We are confident that the Eton Star sixth forms will produce extraordinary, transformative outcomes, not only for their students but for the wider communities too.

“With a growing demand for sixth-form places in these areas, we aim to enable more young people to benefit from a high-quality academic education and to broaden the opportunities available to them both during and after their sixth-form studies.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said they were “concerned” about the extent to which decisions by Government, about which sixth form free school bids to approve, are based on detailed evidence demonstrating local need for additional places.

He said: “We are aware that some high-profile examples announced today were trailed in the media before applications had even opened, and long before evidence could be gathered. In some cases, what evidence is available does not point to an established track record of success in sixth form provision.

“The result is that some new, untried and untested free schools are set to open in communities where there is already sufficient, high-quality provision, while areas with much greater need of additional high-quality, sixth form places continue to be neglected. This presents the risk of existing and high-performing sixth form provision being unnecessarily disrupted.”

But Mr Watkin welcomed the establishment of 16-19 schools in areas where “there is an identified need” amid the rising 18-year-old population.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “It is essential that any selective sixth form takes into account the extra challenges faced by all under resourced pupils when selecting students – not just those on free school meals – otherwise it runs the risk of merely perpetuating educational inequalities.”