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'Biased' advice cheats pupils

Schools are accused of failing to be impartial about college options, reports Martin Whittaker reports.

SCHOOLS are failing to give young people unbiased advice about their education options at the age of 16, a survey of further education college students has found.

One in three said their school gave them inadequate information and advice, the Association of Colleges survey discovered.

The association said the Government's 14-19 education strategy could fail unless children received impartial advice on the best subjects to take and where to study them. "We are not attacking schools, but rather the system itself," said Judith Norrington, the association's director of curriculum and quality. "Frankly this role is too important to be left in the hands of a single organisation - independent advice and guidance is crucial.

"Children need to know that advice about where to continue their compulsory education comes from someone with their interests at heart, not with a vested interest in the future of a specific institution.

"Schools can't be expected either to know the full education and training options available, or to remain unbiased when the future of their sixth form may depend on the number of students they have staying on."

According to the survey of 550 young people aged 16 to 25, 34 per cent believed their school did not give them enough information and advice on options at 16. A quarter said their school did not provide enough information about what was available at their local FE college. Regionally, the West Midlands came out worst with 54 per cent saying their school gave them inadequate information and advice.

Cirencester College in Gloucestershire has carried out an internal survey.

More than 80 per cent of students felt their school did not give full information on options or discuss their choices fairly.

The college says findings show that schools have concealed information and misinformed students about colleges and other sixth forms. One business studies general national vocational qualification (GNVQ) student commented:

"They advised me to do a course that was not best suited for me because they needed extra students to keep the course going. That's the reason I'm two years behind.

"I did not want to do this course and said I wanted to do A-levels, but they talked me round."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said:

"Schools or colleges are both sometimes guilty of encouraging young people to sign up to their institution because the funding mechanism encourages this. But retention rates are a much more important performance indicator."

The survey comes after chief inspector David Bell criticised the "paucity of opportunity" for average or less able post-16 students .

In the 200102 annual report published earlier this year, he said:

"Higher-attaining pupils almost always have a satisfactory choice of courses, but lower attainers at 16 often have inadequate access to suitable education and training."

FEFocus, 34

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