As if the arrival of thousands of new students this week was not enough for colleges to contend with, principals have been busy hiring new teachers and tearing up their timetables as a result of the English GCSE grading crisis.
With a change in grade boundaries partway through the year resulting in thousands of students unexpectedly missing out on the grade C benchmark - mandatory for many post-16 courses - some colleges have seen their pass rates plummet by as much as 54 percentage points.
As a result of the crisis, colleges have been forced to take drastic and swift action. The Association of Colleges (AoC) has revealed that a third of its surveyed member colleges are offering affected students places on alternative courses, while 28 per cent are overruling their usual admissions criteria to accept students with a D in English, provided they improve their grade by a set deadline.
More than half of colleges reported a drop on last year in their intake of 16- to 18-year-olds on level 3 courses, while three-quarters said they were laying on extra remedial classes in English. Of those institutions lowering their entry requirements, 60 per cent will have to hire additional English teachers to get their learners up to speed.
Some students who have been offered apprenticeships also face an anxious wait to see if their place will still be available after they resit the exam later this year.
Asha Khemka, principal of Vision West Nottinghamshire College, said that it had been forced to undertake a last- minute overhaul of its staffing and timetabling arrangements. "At a time when we are already under pressure, this is an extra bit we have to deal with," she said. "It's just unbelievable. But we have to get on with it and make sure no students will lose out."
Where students have been awarded a D grade in English but have satisfied all other criteria for their chosen course, Ms Khemka said they would be given "the benefit of the doubt".
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum, said its members were also reporting "freakish" results, with one college - which did not want to be named - seeing its English GCSE A*-C pass rate drop from 56 per cent last year to just 2 per cent this year.
Jim Aleander, interim principal at South Leicestershire College, said it had been switching affected students from level 3 to level 2 courses, with a view to fast-tracking them at a later date if they managed to achieve a C or better in their resits. He added that the demise of the Connexions service could leave many students unsure where to turn for impartial careers advice.
"What can a college careers adviser do? They may not have time to deal with this sudden crisis. I have some concerns about what's happening with careers advice," Mr Aleander said.
Basingstoke College of Technology recorded a shock 8 per cent drop in its English GCSE A*-C pass rate. "Some learners may not be able to get on to courses," said principal Anthony Bravo.
"If they miss out because of this, it would be a tragedy. If they have got a D and the head of department feels comfortable taking them, we will have a bit of discretion."
Joy Mercer, the AoC's director of education policy, warned that colleges were being particularly severely affected by the problems, with 94 per cent of those surveyed reporting a drop in the A*-C pass rate compared with students' predicted grades. Colleges expect their English GCSE provision to increase by 23 per cent in the coming year as a result.
"Lots of colleges have been hit," Ms Mercer said. "There is a resource issue. It is about finding room in the timetable, finding teachers, even finding an exam room. It is an extra hurdle for learners to jump over, and an extra worry: what if they get through a year of their course but don't pass the GCSE again?"
61% of colleges reported a decrease in 16-18 recruitment at level 3.
54% of colleges reported an increase in 16-18 recruitment at level 2.
Photo credit: PA
Original headline: `Freakish' results, falling intakes, hastily rejigged timetables