One of the country’s most prestigious private schools has been given the green light to open free, selective high schools in disadvantaged areas.
Eton College, a boarding school near Windsor in Berkshire, and the Academy Trust Star Academies will set up three state high schools in Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham after the Department for Education (DfE) approves the plans.
Named Eton Star Dudley, Eton Star Oldham and Eton Star Teesside, the free schools for 16-19 year olds aim to recruit young people from disadvantaged communities and help them secure places at top universities.
Eton College, where many of the country’s prime ministers studied, will contribute around £1m a year per college – that’s around £2,000 a year for each student – on top of current funding levels.
The partnership also offers state high school students the opportunity to attend a summer school at Eton College each year as part of the partnership.
This comes after Dudley, Middlesbrough and Oldham were all included in the government’s 55 ‘cold spots’ in education in England – those identified as having the lowest educational outcomes – as part of their alignment agenda.
In February of last year, the DfE announced that the 55 “educational investment areas” selected to raise school standards would be prioritized for new high schools.
Each sixth year Eton Star college will take 240 students per year, meaning that by year 12 and 13 each college will have 480 students when it is full.
A spokesman for Eton College and Star Academies said the aim is for most students to have the opportunity to pursue top universities and “this will be reflected in the GCSE results they need for admission”.
However, the focus is on accommodating large numbers of students who are entitled to free school meals, students from disadvantaged zip code areas, children in care and students who would be the first in their families to enter university.
The colleges will be co-educational, unlike Eton, and students will not wear the traditional Eton uniform of a black tailcoat, the spokesman said.
The DfE has approved 15 new free schools – including the three Eton Star sixth form schools – in parts of the country where educational outcomes are weakest and said about 12,000 young people would benefit.
A northern version of the Brit School, which has sponsored artists such as Adele and Amy Winehouse, is among the approved free school applications.
Plans have also been approved for two University Technical Colleges (UTCs), a new comprehensive school for students aged four to 16, an elementary school, two secondary schools and five additional 16- to 19-year-old free schools.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We want to give families more good school places and these 15 new free schools will offer a whole new world of opportunities for young people from Bradford to Bristol.”
“Free schools offer high standards, greater parental choice, and strong industry ties – all in the areas where those opportunities are most needed.”
Simon Henderson, Principal of Eton College, said: “We believe these new colleges have the potential to be transformative for both the young people who attend them and the wider communities they will serve.” Now the hard work really begins as we turn our vision into reality.
“Collaborative partnership will be key to the success of this project and we are very grateful for the support we have already received from the respective municipalities, local communities and our colleagues in other educational institutions.”
Sir Hamid Patel, Managing Director of Star Academies, said: “This is an exciting milestone in our partnership. We are confident that Eton Star High Schools will produce exceptional, transformative outcomes, not only for their students but for the wider community.
“Given the growing demand for high school places in these fields, we want to provide more young people with a quality academic education and expand the opportunities available to them both during and after their high school studies.”
Bill Watkin, executive chairman of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said they were “concerned” about the extent to which government decisions on which free senior high school offerings to approve are based on detailed evidence showing the local need for additional schools .
He said: “We are aware that some high-profile examples announced today were leaked to the media before the applications were even opened and well before any evidence could be gathered.”
“In some cases, the available evidence does not point to a proven track record of delivering sixth grade.
“The result is that some new, untried and untested free schools are opening in communities that already have sufficient and high-quality offerings, while areas with a much greater need for additional, high-quality high school places continue to be neglected. This harbors the risk that existing, high-performing upper school courses will be unnecessarily disrupted.”
But Mr Watkin welcomed the establishment of 16-19 schools in areas where “there is an identified need” given the growing 18-year-old population.
Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “It is important that any selective sixth form takes into account the additional challenges that all underfunded students face when selecting students – and not just those who are free Get school meals – otherwise. There is a risk that educational inequalities will only be perpetuated.”