Students weren't getting good deals

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The Independent Online
OLDHAM SIXTH-form college was the natural choice when Mark Hibbert was deciding on an A-level course. The college, purpose-built in 1992 to replace 10 school sixth forms, was designed to hold 900 students; today it is so popular there are 2,000 and a waiting list.

It offers 35 A-levels, plus a range of GNVQs (vocational equivalents of A-level) and a series of compulsory short courses in subjects like information technology. When the college opened, the town had an A-level pass rate around 50 to 55 per cent. Now it is up to 93 per cent.

Mark, 17, who is studying physics, maths and computer science, hopes to add an AS-level in psychology next year. He says: "This is a lot bigger than school. It has quite a community feel to it. In a secondary school you just have lessons in block after block, and there is no time to do anything. At college, you get free lessons. You find yourself hanging around the place. There's more social life and there are more people interested in the same things that you are. You can also use the facilities outside general opening times."

Mark, who hopes to do astrophysics at Manchester University, adds: "I would not have liked to go to uni straight from school. University is a whole lot more liberal in the way things are taught."

Nick Brown, principal of the college since it opened, says: "The sixth- form college has made a real difference to this town." Previously head of an Oldham secondary school, one of those which lost its sixth form when the college opened, he believes: "Students were not getting a good deal. If you have a very small sixth form, the range of experience is limited. There's the limit in courses and teaching, but you also don't have the social mix."

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