Cumbria’s newest education provider has exceeded its target for student recruitment in its first term of operation.

West Coast Sixth Form (WCSF), a joint venture between The Whitehaven and Workington Academies offering a mix of A Level courses and vocational study, welcomed its first students in September.

And its early success has already encouraged sixth form leaders to consider expanding the range of subjects it offers for post-16 education next year.

Head of the new sixth form, Mark Bedford, said: “After all the uncertainty of Covid and the time spent away it was great to see the students returning for that first day. They were all so enthused and eager to learn.

“We’re really pleased that so many students have chosen to continue their education with us. It’s particularly pleasing that students who previously studied at the academy in Whitehaven decided that staying with a trust and teachers they know was the right option for them.”

Numbers are around 15% ahead of initial forecasts and, with a new build at The Whitehaven Academy now under way, hopes are high for future growth.

Students have enjoyed being part of a new venture – and getting back in the classroom.

Josie Banks said: “The courses really challenge and interest me. It was good to have support in making my choices to make sure I made the right decision.”

Ezra Duncan added: “The staff are great. They are really dedicated to supporting you and challenging you!”

And fellow Year 13 Ellie Henderson said: “There are loads of extra opportunities available which helps you to have the information you need to make the right choices when you leave.”

Mr Bedford said the combination of 32 A level and vocational courses had proved a winning combination for many students. The sixth form offers Extended Certificates, National Diplomas and Extended Diplomas equivalent to one, two and three A Levels, respectively.

Health and social care and children’s play, learning and development have proved particularly popular and are seen as the first step into careers such as nursing, social work and teaching.

The sixth form has its own uniform and transport is provided for students who need to travel between the two sites for lessons.

Mr Bedford said having Andrea McAllister, Head of the Workington campus, who is a Level 7 trained careers advisor on the team was a big advantage.

He said: “It is about getting students onto the right courses for them. We can offer independent advice on what options are available and where those options could lead next.

“For some people, education after Year 11 can be a bit of a maze and Andrea is really well placed to explain what all the different opportunities are.”

Cumbria Education Trust runs both academies and the development fulfils its commitment to return sixth form study to the Whitehaven site, which it took over in late 2018.

Assistant Headteacher Marie McMurdo, at the Whitehaven campus, said: “It is wonderful to be able to offer students such a wealth of opportunities not only within their learning, through the wide range of courses on offer, but also as part of the strong enrichment programme across both campuses.”

Over the last three years, on average, 98% of Workington’s sixth form students have gone on to university study, apprenticeship training or into employment. This year the school had its first student accepted for Oxford University and many others have gone on to other leading universities or degree apprenticeships within industry.