PLANS have been unveiled for a leading sixth form college to join forces with an educational trust, heralding an “exciting new era” for education in Darlington.

Following DfE approval, a public consultation has begun on a proposal to merge Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College with Swift Academies to form a new multi-academy trust, called Inicio Academies.

Swift Academies comprises Hurworth School, Longfield Academy, and The Rydal Academy and the merger with the College brings together a wealth of experience at the top of the new organisation.

Tim Fisher, the country’s longest serving sixth form college Principal, will become Chief Executive of the new trust, while Dean Judson, who became Head Teacher at Hurworth School 20 years ago and Chief Executive of Swift Academies in 2017, will become Inicio’s Deputy Chief Executive.

Mr Fisher, who has held senior roles at the College since 2002 and became Principal in 2007, said: “We are thrilled to announce what we believe will be an exciting new era for education in Darlington by supporting students throughout their educational journey.

“Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College and Swift Academies both have strong reputations, and the high quality education on offer will not only be preserved but enhanced.

“By working together, we can create a more sustainable future, with better resources, higher capacity, and greater connectivity, resulting in an ability to help more young people, both from Darlington and across the region, to gain the futures they deserve.”

Mr Judson added: “This is about taking a successful, trusted partnership, that has existed informally for some time, and developing it for the benefit of more young people in Darlington.

“We are confident that it will accelerate the improvement journey for Longfield Academy, following improved examination results in the summer, which placed it as the second highest performing school in the town, and positive monitoring visits by Ofsted.”

With The Rydal Academy offering nursery provision, the merger creates a unique opportunity in Darlington for a consistent education path from the ages of two to 19.

The consultation period is until 20th December 2023, with the new multi-academy trust due to be formed on the 1st April 2024.

In the meantime, a sustainable growth strategy is already being developed, with ambitions for other aspirational schools to become part of Inicio.

Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College has a rich history of adapting to the changing educational landscape for the benefit of students. Having been founded under a royal charter in 1563, it operated as a grammar school before becoming a sixth form college in 1970. Swift Academies was formed in April 2017.

In a foreword in the official consultation document, the College’s Chair of Governors, Iain Clyde, says: “By taking this step, we will be joining many other important colleges in the academies world, where we can offer the same high quality educational experience whilst enjoying the many benefits that come from working with others.”