A COLLEGE which has set thousands of students on a career path is to close.

Crown College, originally Crown Secretarial College, will be shutting its Westcliff and Southend bases with the loss of 16 jobs.

The institution, which until recently had around 200 students on its roll, will be winding up its courses next month and in March.

It has offered a mixture of vocational courses, including motor mechanics, hair and beauty and construction, for 14 to 16-year-old, 16 to 18-yearolds and adults.

Mark Higgins, managing director, said: “It’s with a heavy heart that we’re having to do this. The company was founded by my parents, Ben and Sue, in 1976.

“Some of our staff have been with us for years. We’ve had tens of thousands of students come through the door.”

Mr Higgins said changes to Government funding and the number of schools sending pupils to the school had made the closure inevitable.

He said: “Half of our business has derived from schools throughout the Thames Gateway area sending their pupils to us for certain courses.

“Our income has dropped off a cliff. Three years ago the income we had from schools was £750,000. This year we’re projecting £200,000 or less.

“That’s partly because school budgets have been squeezed and there’s been a changing attitude in sending learners out into vocational programmes.”

Mr Higgins said the Government had repeatedly changed funding for vocational courses.

He added: “Wemade redundancies last year and the year before that, but we’ve now got to the stage where there’s no fat left to trim.”

James Courtenay, Southend councillor responsible for education, said schools were increasingly providing vocational courses themselves.

He said : “It’s a shame to see any college go, but I think it’s a sign of the times.”

The college’s centres in North Road, Westcliff, and Sutton Road, Southend, will close. The High Street, Grays, site will continue to be run by South Essex College.

The separate apprenticeship training business called Crown Vocational Training, in Leigh, remains open.