In a joint statement, Colin Booth, CEO of Luminate Education Group and Bill Jones, Deputy CEO of Luminate Education Group and principal of Leeds City College - which is part of the group - say the concept will involve a ‘scandalous waste of public money’, and do nothing to help young people ‘level up’ or to tackle regional skills gaps.
The government said it has identified 55 cold spots of the country – primarily in the north, midlands, east of England and south west – where school outcomes are the “weakest”, and Leeds is one of them.
They will be known as “education investment areas” and be prioritised as the location for new specialist sixth form free schools “where there is limited provision to ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers”.
However, Mr Booth and Mr Jones say it is more likely that the students that would access the courses are already achieving well at school and don't need the help, whilst those who are in need of opportunity and support will fall further behind.
They said: "Young people who achieve well at GCSEs and who would gain access to A level courses in new elite sixth form free schools have not fallen behind or under- performed. Creating elite new sixth forms will drive the opposite of levelling up.
"Investing in new elite sixth forms is a red herring which will do nothing to address the major, work- focused skills gaps we are facing in the regions, and which are affecting key growth areas including healthcare, engineering and manufacturing.
"Within Leeds we are desperate for additional post-16 capacity focused on vocational education. We are also desperate for more specialist provision that seeks to re-engage the increasing number of young people who are not in education, employment or training in the city. The thing that we do not need is elitist new free schools.
"Creating new sixth form free schools would be a scandalous waste of public money - money that should instead be invested where it would make a real difference and where we are already short of capacity in Leeds: in vocationally-centred post-16 education and training.
"And it is through such courses that adults, as well as our young people, can access the skills and education they need to adapt to an ever changing jobs’ market and fill the vacancies of today and tomorrow."
They added that setting up new schools to compete with established sixth forms would not help young people and questioned how creating a more elitist education system with less collaboration and inclusion could ever lead to ‘levelling up’.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to levelling up opportunity for children and young people in all parts of the country, including Leeds.
“The Levelling Up White Paper set out our target of 200,000 more people in England completing high-quality training each year by 2030, including 80,000 more completing courses in areas of England with the lowest skills levels.
“New specialist sixth form free schools will also ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers. These sixth form free schools will supplement other post-16 provision already available.”