St Mary’s Sixth Form College in Blackburn is set to close by 2022, it has been revealed.

The college said it would not be taking in any further students in September 2021 and there would be ‘an orderly closure with minimal disruption to the current learners’.

Those applying to enrol for 2021 courses were notified this week that the Cath college would not be taking on any further students.

Interim principal Elissa Best said the closure was particularly sad as it came despite ‘outstanding exam results this summer’.

A statement sent to the Lancashire Telegraph said: “Despite good leadership and effective governance, St Mary’s have been unable to meet the financial challenges as a small standalone College and, with the assistance of the Further Education Commissioner and Education and Skills Funding Agency, had sought to acquire a partner with the hope to sustain its provision.

“In recent months, the FE Commissioner’s Team has led the Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA) process which invited potential partners to express an interest in exploring a collaborative solution.

"The SPA process has now concluded and sadly was unable to find a viable merger partner. The FEC team were very supportive and complimentary of St Mary’s College, its staff and the leadership team, however, the current position is not sustainable.

“Therefore, the governing body have considered and accepted the SPA recommendation for a dignified orderly closure of St Mary’s College with minimal disruption to the current learners. The ESFA will continue to support the college, operationally and financially until July 2022.”

St Mary’s is the smallest sixth form in England and was established 95 years ago as a Catholic boys school by the Marist Fathers.

Chair of governors, Mark Conboy praised staff and students. He said: "Our governance is strong, yet we still find ourselves in this situation.

"St Mary’s College is, and will continue to be for the next two years at least, a great local institution, serving the local community well, as it has done for nearly 100 years, providing the highest quality education for the young people of Blackburn.

“We find ourselves here due to circumstances out of our control and I want to commend and thank Elissa Best for her strength and determination to keep St Mary’s College alive, provide direction and leadership and keep the St Mary’s family together’.

Ms Best added: “This is incredibly hard. We may be a small local college, but we have a huge heart.

"The recommendation to consider closure comes as a blow to us all, especially after we had so much to celebrate on the back of our outstanding exam results this summer.

"I want to thank our great team of dedicated and talented teachers and support staff, many of whom have been working here for a very long time. I am very grateful for their continued support and can assure you that the day to day learning will not change for our wonderful students who will continue their learning and complete their studies here."

A statement from the college added: “The financial landscape for sixth form colleges is very challenging and has become more so over the last eight years with 20 per cent real term funding cuts. The resulting funding pressures have forced the reshaping of post-16 education, 70 sixth-forms to close and smaller sixth-form colleges to struggle."

Coun Julie Gunn, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: "We are sad to hear about the closure of St Mary’s College. We will continue to work in collaboration with St Mary’s in providing assurance to current students and their parents that the College is committed to delivering high quality teaching and learning opportunities for them to complete their education until July 2022. 

"We are working closely with the college to ensure that the needs of our local young people are at the centre of any decision-making and that the aspirations of the government for opportunities for all young people are met."

Blackburn councillor Suleman Khonat said: “I am extremely saddened to hear about the college.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the college management regarding neighbourhood issues and they were very helpful and supportive. I am sad to hear this.”