The government is considering imposing financial penalties on school sixth-forms that sign students up to A levels that are "not appropriate" for them, skills minister Nick Boles has revealed.
Addressing the Commons Subcommittee on Education, Skills and the Economy this morning, he explained that schools currently faced no penalties for accepting students on to A-level programmes from which they subsequently dropped out, rather than steering them towards apprenticeships or other vocational qualifications.
"One of the things I have been concerned about, and we are looking at, is it seems to me that schools are currently not penalised at all if they keep someone on for an A-level programme that is not appropriate for them and they drop out after a year," Mr Boles (pictured) told MPs. "There is really no downside. One of the things we are looking at is whether we could change that. When I talk to colleges, they certainly say that could make a difference."
Mr Boles also raised concerns that some school students did not receive sufficient information about apprenticeships from careers advisers, and said Ofsted inspections could be used as a lever for ensuring schools offered better information, advice and guidance.
"It might be one of the cases where someone slips over the border [between grades] because they failed to deliver on that," he added.
In January, it was announced that state schools would be forced to give vocational routes as much weight as academic options when providing careers advice to pupils. This, the government said, would tackle the "outdated snobbery" against technical education and apprenticeships.
Mr Boles added that appropriate destination information was essential in enabling young people to make the best choice for them, as was data and other relevant information. There should be "equal clarity" between technical routes and the better understood A-level and university route. He also suggested that apprentices should be asked to return to their former school, along with their employer, to explain the value of work-based training to younger students.
His comments come after the NUS students' union branded the careers advice system a "national scandal" in last week's TES. Their concerns were echoed by shadow FE and skills minister Gordon Marsden.
Martin Doel, chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “To make informed choices for the future, young people need high quality, impartial careers information about all post-16 education and training options, including apprenticeships and technical and professional education.
“Colleges are keen to work together with their local schools to ensure that all young people are able to choose the right course for them which lead to the best possible skills and qualifications needed for a successful career. Alongside this, the minister is right to look at how the system can best ensure schools encourage their pupils to take the best decision for them rather than automatically enter the sixth form. This could be a combination of incentives and potential penalties.”
Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES FE News on Twitter and like TES FE News on Facebook