JFS has expanded its range of vocational courses to encourage more students to remain in the sixthform.
The school is investing in more alternatives to A-level and in technological upgrade.
“Up to 70 children were leaving JFS each year to do vocational education courses elsewhere that we didn’t offer,” said operations director Jamie Peston.
Apart from anything, it meant they were losing out on Jewish programming in the sixthform such as residential Shabbatonim or a trip to Poland.
But as a result of the changes, he said, “we’ve had 40 fewer children leaving this year to study a vocational course.”
As well as a two-year childcare and education course (whose entire cohort graduated with A*s this summer), the school offers BTecs in business, creative media and art and design plus a similar, WJEC-certified course in food science and nutrition.
The new year-12 is the school’s biggest in recent years with the numbers of BTec students tripling to around 60.
BTecs can be taken at various levels: the two-year, level-3 national extended diploma is equivalent to three A-levels; the level-3 national diploma to two A-levels; and the level-3 national extended certificate to one A-level.
Whereas students who want to take A-levels are required to have a grade-5 pass in English language and maths GCSE plus four grade Bs, the entry barrier for BTec level-3s is lower: grade 4 in English and maths along with three grade Cs.
In addition, the school also offers a one-year level-2 BTec first diploma in business — the equivalent of four GCSEs — which includes resits in GCSE English and maths for those who need them. The curriculum includes financial planning, principles of marketing and brand promotion. From a one-year BTec, students can progress to the more advanced two-year BTecs if they choose.
The bigger suite of vocational courses follows a review which “looked at employability, skills and finding correct pathways for people,” Mr Peston said. “It was part of making the school more inclusive.”
A new deputy head with a background in vocational education, David Wragg, joined in January.
Staffing has also been increased in technology and computing ahead of an extension to the Wolfson technology block.
So far £1 million has been raised towards the enterprise and subject to planning, the first part of the building should be ready for use in September 2018.
“We want to develop expertise and become a centre of excellence,” Mr Peston said.
A £300,000 grant from a foundation will help the school buy robotics kits and acquire more 3-D printers. “There is no accredited course for robotics yet,” he said, “but there will be.”