Cash-strapped col­leges forced to ditch A lev­els

Stu­dents at risk of be­ing ‘short-changed’ amid fund­ing squeeze, warns AOC

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - FURTHER - Ju­lia belgutay

THE RE­FORMED A lev­els – taken for the first time this sum­mer – were de­signed to be “more rig­or­ous” than the legacy qual­i­fi­ca­tions and “pro­vide stu­dents with the skills and knowl­edge needed for pro­gres­sion to un­der­grad­u­ate study” .

But new re­search re­veals that 60 per cent of col­leges of­fer­ing A lev­els have re­duced the num­ber of sub­jects avail­able to stu­dents. A sur­vey of col­lege lead­ers, car­ried out by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges (AOC), in part­ner­ship with Tes, shows that a wide range of sub­jects is be­ing axed.

One in five of the col­leges sur­veyed had stopped teach­ing Ger­man over the past year, with mul­ti­ple col­leges also drop­ping ac­count­ing, dance and mu­sic (see box, be­low right).

Half of the col­leges sur­veyed said that the main rea­son for cut­ting A-level op­tions was a lack of de­mand from stu­dents, with 9 per cent blam­ing low fund­ing and 6 per cent at­tribut­ing it to staffing is­sues.

This year’s en­try fig­ures from Ofqual re­veal that the big­gest drops for this co­hort were recorded in crit­i­cal think­ing and gen­eral stud­ies (both dis­con­tin­ued by award­ing bod­ies), fol­lowed by ICT, per­form­ing/ ex­pres­sive arts and com­mu­ni­ca­tion stud­ies.

But it is the is­sue of fund­ing, and the con­se­quences for the breadth of ed­u­ca­tion on of­fer, that poses the big­gest con­cern for AOC chief ex­ec­u­tive David Hughes. “The most wor­ry­ing im­pact is that on stu­dents,” he says. “Their range of op­por­tu­ni­ties to study and the num­ber of hours of tu­ition, sup­port and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties they re­ceive have di­min­ished enor­mously.

“Our young peo­ple are in dan­ger of get­ting short-changed com­pared with their coun­ter­parts in other coun­tries and com­pared with pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. That can­not be right, which is why we have called on the gov­ern­ment to in­crease the base rate for 16-19 fund­ing to match that for 11- to 16-year-olds.”

In­creased com­pe­ti­tion

Ac­cord­ing to the Sixth Form Col­leges’ As­so­ci­a­tion (SFCA), per-stu­dent fund­ing for sixth for­m­ers is, on av­er­age, 21 per cent less than that for sec­ondary stu­dents. Hughes adds that A-level re­forms have also had an im­pact on re­cruit­ment, but it is too early to say ex­actly what ef­fect this will have.

He also blames the in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from school sixth forms for a re­duced cur­ricu­lum in some ar­eas, as in­sti­tu­tions com­pete for stu­dents. Be­tween 2010 and 2015, 169 new school sixth forms were opened. How­ever, the num­ber of stu­dents aged 16-18 de­clined dur­ing the same pe­riod.

Guid­ance pub­lished by the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion in April 2016 stressed that schools should only be al­lowed to open a new sixth form if it would have 200 stu­dents and of­fer 15 dif­fer­ent A lev­els.

“The gov­ern­ment has agreed to the open­ing of too much new 16-19 pro­vi­sion, even in ar­eas of good sup­ply,” Hughes adds.

Last month, ap­pren­tice­ships and skills min­is­ter Anne Mil­ton re­vealed that there had been an un­der­spend of more than £130 mil­lion in the 16-19 bud­get in each of the past two years, which she partly at­trib­uted to lower-thanex­pected stu­dent num­bers.

Bill Watkin, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the SFCA, says fi­nan­cial pres­sures are the pri­mary rea­son for A-level sub­jects be­ing dropped.

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