THE new Eton Star College in Oldham will “remove barriers” for students previously unlikely to have a chance of a university education, the borough’s council leader has said, writes Chris Gee.
Last week, the government gave approval for the expansion of the elite boarding school Eton to open a sixth form college for 480 students in the city.
Eton, in conjunction with state school trust Star Academies and Oldham Council, plan to open up the college by 2026. The boarding school will also sponsor identically sized sixth forms in Dudley and Middlesbrough.
Eton has promised to invest £1 million per year, on top of the government’s funding – as well as supply curriculum and teaching support to Star Academies. Arooj Shah, the Oldham council leader, said the college would unlock opportunities previously unavailable to young people in the borough.
She said, “It’s about giving chances to those young people who are less likely to have opportunity, but have the potential to do well. They will have access to excellent education.
“A focus will be on recruiting children who are on free school meals, maybe looked-after children and from post codes and backgrounds which aren’t perhaps the most affluent.
“Maybe they will be from backgrounds where they would be the first in their family to have the opportunity to go to university.”
Eton is the former school of ex-prime minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, along with another 19 prime ministers, and charges £44,000 a year in fees.
It has traditionally been where children from royalty and the world’s most privileged families have spent their formative years.
The Eton head, Simon Henderson, said: “We believe the new college has the potential to be transformative both for the young people who attend, but also for the wider communities it will serve.
“Now the hard work starts as we turn our vision into reality.”
Sir Hamid Patel CBE, the chief executive of Star Academies, said: “We are confident the sixth form college will produce extraordinary outcomes, not only for students but for the wider communities too.
“With a growing demand for sixth form places, we aim to enable more young people to benefit from a high-quality academic education and to broaden the opportunities available to them both during and after their sixth form studies.”
In Middlesbrough, there was a mixed reaction. Some hailed government approval for a new Eton College free sixth form centre as “great news” while others said it was “not the right plan”.
Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, applauded the approval as “a victory for academic excellence, equality of opportunity and social justice”.
But Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald said it would “simply cream off, and badge as their own, our most able and advantaged students, and described Eton as a “hallmark of stifling elitism”.
The college will be free to attend and take a total of 480 students across years 12 and 13, who have performed well in their GCSEs. It had been hoped that the college would take its first 240 students in September 2025, but now that the plans have been approved, Eton and Star will work with Middlesbrough Council and the Department of Education to determine timescales for its opening. (With additional reporting by Gareth Lightfoot, Local Democracy Reporting Service)