WARRINGTON is on the way to becoming one of the most diverse towns for its range of educational establishments.
But, with growing levels of vacant places in high schools, concerns have been raised about the risk this could cause to education in the town.
In the next two years, the Future Tech Studio School and the University Technical College are expected to open, providing more choice for teenagers wishing to follow a more vocational route.
The town is already home to six academy high schools, one free school and five state high schools, seven sixth forms and two colleges.
From September, Woolston Learning Village will open and become home to Green Lane and Fox Wood special schools as well as the combined sixth form.
Council children’s chief, Hitesh Patel said he did not see competition in the town as a problem.
He said: “Even before the launch of exam results tables, schools and college were competing with each other.
“Our hope is that young people can get the best education to maximise their chances of getting their desired job and that is why a growing town like Warrington needs a diverse range of places where students can study.”
Warrington South MP David Mowat said these additions to the educational landscape were a positive for Warrington and hailed the UTC and FTSS as ‘brilliant initiatives’ and expected them both to be oversubscribed.
Principal designate of the FTSS Lee Barber said he also did not see the addition of the UTC to the Warrington as a negative and hoped there would be opportunities to collaborate to ‘ensure Warrington is a hub of excellence for engineering’.
EMPTY seats in high schools in Warrington are set to grow which has sparked fears that this could result in a school closure.
The Warrington Guardian has learned that there are currently 1,042 unfilled places at high schools across Warrington.
This number is set to increase as King’s Leadership Academy in Woolston introduces new year groups and the opening of the UTC and FTSS.
Projected numbers, provided by council officers last year, show that student numbers are predicted to rise from 11,758 to 12,456 over the next five years but there will still be a surplus of school places.
In the September intake of year seven pupils, there are expected to be 303 unfilled places in comparison to the 281 vacant places in the current academic year.
Warrington North MP Helen Jones said there was a real risk that students in the north of the town would lose out.
She said: “Delivering a good education is not like buying a tin of beans. The best outcomes are achieved when institutions co-operate to raise standards, share expertise and offer the widest range of courses.
“Developing new institutions on an ad-hoc basis without a strategic approach risks damaging education in the north of the town.
“Already we have lost one high school, are threatened with the loss of a sixth form, and the risk assessment for the UTC says another closure is possible.”
Clr Colin Froggatt (Poulton South - LAB), who resigned from his role as council education chief in March, also raised concerns about the amount of competition in the town.
He said: "In Warrington, competition in the secondary education system can only be detrimental as there are too many institutions chasing too few students. This will be made worse if a UTC opens in the town.”
But a spokesman for the University of Chester, which sponsors the UTC, said the university does not see itself as being in competition with schools, but ‘is supporting a national movement that aims to bring education and sector specific employment closer together for the benefit of the community and the economy’.