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Colleges block students from switching and ditching A levels

Funding cuts and the decoupling of AS levels have prompted sixth-form colleges to prevent students from dropping or changing A-level subjects

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Funding cuts and the decoupling of AS levels have prompted sixth-form colleges to prevent students from dropping or changing A-level subjects

More than half of sixth-form colleges will not allow students to drop one of their A-level subjects, a new survey reveals.

Research by the Sixth Form Colleges' Assocation (SFCA), shared exclusively with Tes, shows that 55 per cent of colleges will insist that their students who enrol in September carry on with all three subjects, while just 6 per cent of respondents said they will allow students to carry on with just two A levels, should they want to drop one of the courses. A quarter (27 pe rcent) said they planned to offer a “safety net” programme for those who decided to drop one A-level subject.

The survey of more than half of the country’s sixth-form colleges also identified a trend towards offering three A levels instead of four.

The shift from four to three subjects 

Some 61 per cent of colleges surveyed by the SFCA said that they would offer three subjects as standard for 2017-18, with only the most able students having the option of starting four subjects. There has also been an increase in colleges only offering three subjects in both years of study, with a corresponding decrease in those offering four subjects in the first year of sixth-form.

The trend has been prompted by funding pressures, as well as the decision to decouple AS levels from A levels. Bill Watkin, SFCA chief executive, said that the move from four to three subjects will result in “a curriculum that requires fewer classes, fewer resources and fewer teachers, and therefore a cost saving”.

“If students make an ill-judged choice at the start of Year 12 and subsequently want to drop a subject, those starting with three will be left with only two – unlikely to meet university entrance requirements,” he added. “The result is that those who previously might have been able to drop a subject they didn’t like must now persevere with it for two years.”

Financial pressures

The 16-19 sector has found itself under increasing financial pressure in recent years. In October, a survey by the SFCA revealed that 90 per cent of colleges were concerned or extremely concerned about their financial health, with two-thirds dropping some academic courses as a result.

The Association of Colleges was “concerned that this change is having an impact on student choice and could limit the breadth of their post-16 experience”, said Kim Clifford, associate director of sixth-form colleges.

Shrewsbury Sixth Form College reduced its A-level programme to three subjects in 2015. Principal James Staniforth said that decision had to be made because of financial pressures, but the college made sure that it offered alternative programmes deliverable in one year for learners who dropped a course to fall back on. “As long as you have the student outcome at the heart of what you are doing, it is fine,” he added.

This is an edited version of an article in the 5 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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