Sixth form courses under threat as funding reaches crisis point

SecEd reports that unless ministers take action on sixth form funding, post-16 courses will continue to be cut, class sizes will continue to rise, and some sixth forms will disappear altogether, it was warned this week. 

Class sizes post-16 will also continue to rise and more sixth form closures are likely, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have said.

The three associations are behind the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign, which is calling on the government to introduce a £200 per-student uplift in funding post-16 and to conduct a review of sixth form funding to “ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high-quality curriculum”.

Spending on further education and sixth forms fell by 14 per cent in real terms under the coalition government. Currently, the average sixth form student receives funding of £4,531 a year, around 20 per cent less than the average of £5,751 received by an 11 to 16-year-old student in secondary school.

The Support Our Sixth-formers campaign says that this basic funding problem is being compounded by rising costs which are “putting huge additional pressure on stretched budgets”. The problem is worse for sixth form colleges, which cannot cross-subsidise in the way that 11 to 18 schools might be able to.

Its manifesto adds: “The funding that schools and colleges now receive to educate sixth-formers covers the cost of delivering three A level or equivalent qualifications, and little more. As a result, the wider support offer to students has been greatly diminished. For example, it is increasingly difficult to address the concerns expressed by employers that young people lack the skills to flourish in the workplace.”

The government has made a funding commitment to increase teaching hours for the new technical education qualifications – what are being called T Levels – when they are introduced in 2019/20 but the campaign says that this will only cover around 25 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the SFCA, said: “A period of prolonged underinvestment means that sixth-formers in England are only funded to receive half the tuition time as sixth-formers in other leading economies. There is now a 21 per cent drop in education funding at the age of 16 that it is very difficult to justify – particularly as young people are required to participate in education and training until the age of 18. Without urgent investment, sixth-form education in England will become an increasingly narrow and part-time experience.”

Read more Sixth form courses under threat as funding reaches crisis point

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