Academies

Elite sixth forms and northern BRIT School among free school bids

Only one in four of the more than 60 applications will be approved

Only one in four of the more than 60 applications will be approved

The DfE has given the green light to a BRIT school in the North of England

At least six “elite” sixth forms and a new BRIT School for the north are vying to be among the 15 new free schools in areas in which ministers want to boost standards.

Only one in four of the more than 60 applications for wave 15 of the Department for Education’s free school lottery will be approved.

Among the bids for new elite sixth forms are the three “unashamedly academic” Eton and Star Academies colleges proposed in Dudley, Oldham and Teesside.

The government has committed to opening “a number” of “high-quality, academic-focused” 16 to 19 free schools in education investment areas. (EIAs), regions with the lowest pupil outcomes that have been promised extra support.

The move has proven controversial with fears it will lead to “selection for a lucky few”. A study last year found elite sixth forms taught few poorer pupils and recruited heavily from neighbouring areas.

But Eton and Star have pledged to focus on young people from the most deprived communities.

Curriculums will ‘evolve to meet business demands’

Revealing more details, the organisations told Schools Week each college’s curriculum could “evolve to meet contemporary demands of business in the local areas”.

For instance, pathways to degree-level programmes in biomedical science and STEM subjects in Teesside could be introduced to support its chemical engineering industry.

The Cornwall Academy of Excellence, founded by school leaders from the Cornwall School of Mathematics and Science (CSMS), is also making a bid for an “elite” sixth form.

It would have space for 450 students with expected entry requirements of grade 7 at GCSE. Emma Haase, CSMS’s principal, said it would cater for “intellectually curious students” across the county to get more into the top universities.

The Mercian Trust in the West Midlands, which runs nine schools including two selective secondaries, is also wanting to open a new sixth form to allow more 16 to 19 disadvantaged students to access prestigious universities.

Located in Sandwell, Mercian Sixth would cater for up to 600 students from September 2025 with a focus on STEM.

There is also a bid for iExcel Elite STEM Sixth Form College for Females in Bradford, run by the Feversham Education Trust.

Could the north get its own BRIT School?

Meanwhile, the famous BRIT School, a 14 to 19 performing and creative arts school in Croydon, south London, hopes to expand to the north of England.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the recorded music industry’s trade association that funds the school, has chosen Bradford for a proposed 16 to 19 college to “level up creative opportunity” across West Yorkshire.

The London school’s alumni include Adele, Amy Winehouse and Rizzle Kicks.

A BPI spokesperson said it had “long been the ambition” to create a specialist creative school outside London and the south east to make the industry “more inclusive and accessible for all, regardless of background”.

Two university technical colleges are also among the applications – one in Southampton proposed by UTC Portsmouth.

UTC wants to provide health and green pathways

The second is an extension of UTC Doncaster, part of the Brighter Futures Learning Partnership Trust, to provide new pathways into health sciences and green technology careers.

The DfE will now assess the 64 applications before an announcement in spring. Criteria includes a local need for additional school places and the ability to support “rapid improvement” in educational outcomes.

Evaluators will prioritise applications in “priority” investment areas – a subset of 24 regions that make up the 55 EIAs.

About 85 per cent of the applications are in EIAs, including all six elite sixth forms. Just one in three is in a priority area.

These applications are separate to the 60 special and alternative provision free schools the government wants to open from September 2025.

When announcing the plans in June, w the then education secretary, said the new schools would “continue to make sure that every child, in every corner of the country, gets the support they need to succeed”.

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