‘Categorical’ commitment on sixth form as councillors vow to keep Academy’s ‘feet to the fire’

More than 270 residents of Wixams petitioned the council to make sure that their local academy sticks to an agreement to provide a sixth form.

Distrust has gripped petitioners to such an extent that they insisted on going ahead with a debate on the issue at the full Bedford Council despite an assurance that Wixams Academy would be getting a sixth form.

Earlier this year parents were told that the proposed opening date would be delayed by a year, but that was reversed. 

“I feel that the council has got to hold the Bedford College Academies Trust’s (BCAT) feet to the fire to ensure that they deliver,” said Wixams ward councillor Graeme Coombes (Cons, Wilshamstead).

Cllr Coombes also spoke the words of petition organiser Kevin Smith, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s (July 14) meeting because he is self-isolating.

“The petitioners make a strong case, which in a nutshell is that a sixth form at Wixams was promised and a sixth form should be delivered.”

He added: “We’ve now had a belated climbdown by BCAT, probably realising that they were in an unwinnable position and they have done a U-turn.”

But he claimed there were “caveats” in a letter sent to parents because the academy does not have the space after admitting more pupils in younger age groups.

“They are trying to cram a pint into a half pint pot,” he said.

Cllr Doug McMurdo (Ind, Sharnbrook) said: “This strikes me as reckless behaviour and it must not be tolerated. I think this goes further than Wixams Academy.”

Education portfolio holder, Cllr James Valentine (Lab, Kempston West) proposed a motion following discussion with the council’s chief education officer.

“We are committed to working with parents, Wixams Academy and BCAT to ensure that sixth form provision is available at Wixams in line with the agreed contract between the DFE and the Trust,” he said.

Cllr Valentine said he will be meeting with the Trust next week and pledged to stay in contact with parents over the next year “and to ensure parents and pupils’ views influence the planning and decision making.”

He added: “This council resolves to champion the education of all children in Bedford Borough with the addition of a sixth form provision starting in September 2022 at Wixams Academy to meet the needs of local residents and to commit to work with the school, multi academy trust and Central Bedfordshire Council to secure further education provision in Wixams to meet the growing demand.” 

Councillors unanimously backed the motion. 

> After the meeting a BCAT Trust spokesperson “categorically” reasserted that Wixams Academy would be getting a sixth form and it would be opening in September 2022.

The statement added: “The Trust is categorically confirming that there will be a sixth form opening in September 2022.  Planning work is already in hand and the Trust CEO will be meeting Bedford Borough Council as part of this process.”

“It is an integral part of the funding agreement with the Department of Education.”