South Tyneside College is scrapping A-levels. The “gold standard” qualifications will no longer be offered from September, with the college instead focusing on vocational provision. About 90 students and 17 lecturers are affected by the changes. School-leavers who want to take A-level courses will now have to fight for a place at one of the borough’s two sixth forms or travel to Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead or North Tyneside.
A South Tyneside College spokesman said: “We have decided to reshape, strengthen and expand our curriculum to focus on vocational education that meets the needs of employers and universities. We strongly believe this will provide our students with an excellent and ‘best possible’ career route into higher education and employment. This means we are replacing our A-level provision with more vocational-led courses.”
Students who have applied to take AS-levels at the college, in St George’s Avenue, South Shields, in September will be offered vocational alternatives. Those who are due to progress to A2 – the second year of their A-levels – will be able to complete their studies at the college.
Business lecturer John Heywood, branch secretary of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), said the A-level team was informed of the move at a meeting on Thursday. Staff have been told they will be redeployed. He said: “I think it is tragic that we lose our gold standard provision. These are the courses that will get students into university. I think it is an absolute tragedy for the borough, the college, students and staff.”
The number of students taking A-levels at the college has dwindled from almost 300 in 2009 to just 48 now, with a further 36 doing other courses, plus an A-level to enhance their main course. The college’s A-level pass rate last year was 99.1 per cent. It said “every possible support” is being given to current and prospective students, and that it is liasing with other A-level providers to give them a full range of alternative options.
Harton Technology College in Lisle Road, South Shields, NE34 6DL and St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School in Mill Road, Hebburn, NE31 2ET are the only other sixth form providers in the borough. Whitburn C of E Academy in Nicholas Avenue, Whitburn, Sunderland, SR6 7EX has been granted permission to open a sixth form from September 2014, but plans are in the very early stages.
Three secondary schools – Boldon School in New Road, Boldon Colliery, NE35 9DZ; South Shields Community School (formerly Brinkburn Comprehensive School) in Nevinson Avenue, Whiteleas, NE34 8BT and St Wilfrid’s RC College in Temple Park Road, South Shields, NE34 0PH – offer some post-16 provision.