A SPECIALIST sixth form college struggling to attract students has been earmarked for closure by councillors sparking a petition calling for its retention.

Lancashire County Council's cabinet yesterday agreed to start a consultation exercise on shutting the 16 to 18 school in Burnley.

Unless the consultation leads to a change of heart, Thomas Whitham Sixth Form will close in August.

Local residents yesterday launched a change.org petition urging the county council to keep the college open.

The consultation which last until the December with a final decision due in April.

Cabinet was told that since it opened in 2006, the school has been judged as 'Good' at every Ofsted inspection but its current number of students at 139 from Burnley and Pendle boroughs was well short of the originally intended 600.

Councillors were also told: "The school's financial position has been in steady decline for a number of years but there has been a rapid increase in the cumulative deficit since 2017/18."

Cllr Phillippa Williamson, the county council's schools boss, said: "The governing body of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form approached the county council recently to tell us that they were worried about their future due to concerns about its financial viability, and the low number of students. They asked the authority to consult on the viability of the sixth form.

"We share the concern of the school governing body about this, and agree that it is now time for us to consider the long-term future of the school."

Ex student Charlotte Rigby said: “Thomas Whitham provides individual support for each of their students, something which some of the bigger colleges sometimes lack. I owe my veterinary nursing degree and my status as a registered veterinary nurse to the teachers at the school. I hope it can be saved as it offers something not available elsewhere.”

Colin Brown said “Thomas Whitham Sixth Form is such a strong and successful school that offers students a quality of support and attention not found in the Burnley area. Its closure will seriously affect the educational choices of young people in Burnley and Pendle. This sixth form consistently achieves great results, with the vast majority of students getting into the university of their choice."

Parent Denise McGlynn said: “This is the only place locally that is suitable for high functioning autistic students that cannot cope with a busy environment. My son is starting this year and I am so disappointed that it is likely he won't be able to finish his further education courses with there being nowhere else locally for him to attend."