Eton given go-ahead to open colleges in UK's deprived areas

The project aims to help young people from lower-income communities to secure places at top universities

Eton College, a boarding school near Windsor in Berkshire, and academy trust Star Academies will set up three state sixth forms in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham. PA
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Prestigious Eton College has been given the green light to open free selective sixth form colleges in disadvantaged areas.

The college will open three Star Academies, in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham after the Department for Education approved the plans.

Eton Star Dudley, Eton Star Oldham and Eton Star Teesside will aim to recruit 16-year-olds 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 ($1.276m) a year per college on top of current funding levels – which is about £2,000 per year for each student.

Pupils 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 DfE has also 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.

It comes 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.

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

Each Eton Star sixth form college will admit 240 pupils a year, which means each college will have 480 pupils across Year 12 and Year 13 when full.

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

The focus will be to admit large numbers of pupils 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 coeducational, unlike Eton, and the pupils will not wear the traditional Eton uniform of a black tailcoat.

“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,” Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said.

“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.”

“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,” Simon Henderson, headmaster of Eton College, said.

“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.”

“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,” Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies, said.

“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 the government, about which sixth form free school bids to approve, are based on detailed evidence demonstrating the local need for additional places.

“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,” he said.

“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.

“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,” Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said.

Updated: August 21, 2023, 11:01 PM