Changes in national government education policy have left Wigan Council little choice but to scrap plans for a proposed vocational training centre in Atherton for young people.
But council leaders have pledged to invest the money earmarked for the 14-19 Centre in creating more training and educational opportunities for children and young people.
The proposed 14-19 Centre, planned for the site of the former Hesketh Fletcher High School on Hamilton Street, would deliver some of the council’s core strategic objectives to improve the life chances of young people by providing vocational learning opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting.
However, whilst the proposed centre in Atherton is no longer under consideration, Wigan Council is now considering other options for the multi-million pound investment which will prove more effective in meeting this challenge in the east of the borough.
The decision, agreed unanimously by Wigan Council's ruling Cabinet on Thursday 7th June, was made in the context of significant educational reform by national Government which has radically altered the landscape over the previous two years.
Wigan Council Leader, Lord Peter Smith, says:
"It has become increasingly clear that because of the change in national government direction, our core strategic objective of improving life opportunities and independence for young people in the east of the borough can now best be met by ceasing investment in the 14-19 Centre, and using the remaining capital in other, more effective, ways.
"Over the past two years, we've had to make some very tough decisions, but in this instance it would be totally remiss of us not to look again at our local priorities and to consider the significant implications of this radical shift in national Government policy.
"Government policy on vocational skills is no longer focused on 14-19. The 14-19 Diplomas have all but been abandoned and Government investment is now directed increasingly towards the 16-25s.
"We have also taken into account the decline in the number of 15-19 year olds in the borough between now and 2018 which will see post-16 training and educational providers competing to attract pupils from a significantly decreasing pool.
“We remain committed to improving the life opportunities and independence of young people in the borough, and we are now considering other means of meeting their needs in the east of the borough by investing this capital more effectively.”
The council's move is being supported by the borough's Association of Secondary Headteachers. John Shanahan, who chairs the association and is the Head Teacher at Lowton High School, says:
"Government plans for the Free school in Atherton, including 200 additional post 16 places on the same site as the proposed 14-19 Centre, have put the Council in a really difficult situation and the Borough's Headteachers are pleased that the Council has been wise enough to make this decision and cease to fund this project. Following the Government's cancellation of the BSF programme, the Borough's schools are in great need of additional investment and we hope some of the freed up capital can go to meet this need."
The borough already boasts a state-of-the-art vocational training centre for young people in the shape of the Wigan Warriors'-backed Central Park Training in Norley Hall. Plans for a University Technical College in the borough are also progressing which would create even more opportunities for the borough's young people.
Meanwhile, the council’s apprenticeship scheme, launched in partnership with the Wigan Evening Post in a bid to recruit 100 apprentices in 100 days, far surpassed its target.
Atherleigh ward member and cabinet portfolio holder for children and young people, Cllr Susan Loudon, adds: "We recognise that the landscape has changed significantly over the past couple of years, and that what would have previously met our objectives no longer can.
“However, one thing hasn’t changed and that is our commitment to providing young people with the best possible start in life.
“As well as considering other more viable options for meeting the needs of 14-19 year olds in the east of the borough, we also planning to consult with Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust over an alternative location for Atherton library.”