Colleges ditch A levels amid funding pressures

4th August 2017 at 00:02
German, accounting, dance and music among the A-level subjects being axed by cash-strapped colleges, an Association of Colleges survey reveals

Almost two-thirds of colleges offering A levels have reduced the number of subjects available to students, research shows.

A survey of college leaders, carried out by the Association of Colleges (AoC), in partnership with Tes, reveals that a wide range of subjects have been 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.

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 said. “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 added 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 blamed the increased competition from school sixth forms for a reduced curriculum in some areas, as institutions compete for students.

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-than-expected student numbers.

Funding levels 'too low'

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

Sixth-form funding levels have for some years now been too low to be able to afford a full curriculum,” he said. “And lower funding levels mean a class size has to be bigger for it to be viable.”

The move to a linear, two-year A-level programme, following the decision to scrap AS levels, has also led to a reduced offer, he said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We’re protecting the base rate of funding for 16- and 17-year-olds in full-time education at £4,000 until 2020. Schools and colleges also receive additional funding to reflect increased costs, including for disadvantaged students, higher cost technical courses and large academic programmes.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 4 August 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. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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