Burnley sixth form centre's closure confirmed

A Burnley sixth form centre with a ballooning financial deficit will close this summer.
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Thomas Whitham Sixth Form asked Lancashire County Council to review its future last year amid concerns about its financial viability and falling pupil numbers.

The budget deficit for the facility stands at £4.2m and is forecast to leap by another £2m within the next two years.

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The Barden Lane site was designed to accommodate 600 pupils when it opened under the government’s Building Schools for the Future programme more than a decade ago. Its official intake was recently reduced to 450 – but currently, there are just 101 students attending.

Thomas Whitham Sixth Form (image: Google)Thomas Whitham Sixth Form (image: Google)
Thomas Whitham Sixth Form (image: Google)

Lancashire County Council cabinet papers stress that there are no concerns about the quality of education on offer and that the facility is rated as ‘good’ by the regulator OFSTED.

However, the authority has concluded that there is no prospect of sufficiently boosting pupil numbers and so turning around the institution’s finances. It will officially close on 31st August.

Education bosses have said that they will ensure a smooth transition for those students who will be only halfway through their two-year sixth form education at that point. There are believed to be enough places available elsewhere to meet the needs of those who will need to find a new sixth form at which to study.

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While staff are at risk of redundancy, County Hall says efforts will be made to redeploy or retrain them where possible.

Nine in ten respondents to a consultation into the closure said that they were opposed to the move.

County Cllr Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for schools, said that the decision had not been taken lightly. She made it in consultation with council leader Geoff Driver under urgent decision powers currently being used by the authority in the absence of cabinet meetings during the coronavirus outbreak.

“I would like to reassure everyone that all the views we received during the consultations were considered very carefully as part of the decision-making process.

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“The reality is that the school is no longer financially viable with such low student numbers.

“Despite the robust efforts that the school has made for several years now to attract more students, supported by the county council, low numbers have continued, particularly since 2016/17.

“The problem is that schools with falling rolls have reducing budgets, which can cause issues including reduced subject options.

“We share the concern of the school governing body about this situation, and now believe that there is no other option.”

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The building was constructed under a private finance initaive (PFI) deal, meaning that there will be a financial risk to the county council if an alternative use for the site is not found.