More than 70 school sixth forms have shut over the past three years or are set to be closed amid major funding pressures, Tes can reveal.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has warned that a lack of funding is driving a “forced reshaping of post-16 education” away from schools.
He said that more closures would follow as schools coped with real term sixth-form funding cuts of more than 20 per cent since 2010-11.
Quick read: School sixth forms lose fifth of funding
Background: Post 16 funds hardest hit
Freedom of Information Act responses from 88 local councils obtained by Tes show that 47 school sixth forms have closed in three years and there are ongoing consultations over another 25 closures.
The new figures come as an Education Policy Institute (EPI) report warned this week that schools that provide 16-19 education face deficits that are likely to become unsustainable.
Commenting on Tes’ figures, Mr Barton said: “School sixth-form funding has been cut by more than 20 per cent in real terms over the past eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, so it is not surprising sixth forms are closing and it is likely more will follow.
“The current low level of funding makes it difficult to sustain smaller sixth forms, and this amounts to the forced reshaping of sixth-form education into fewer and larger centres, with consequent reductions in local provision and student choice.
“The government either did not see this coming, despite our repeated warnings, or it has always been conscious this would be the outcome but doesn’t think it matters. Neither diagnosis reflects well on its commitment to education.”
The EPI’s 16-19 Education Funding report published earlier this week said that local authority-maintained schools with sixth forms had seen accumulated deficits increase at a faster rate than those without sixth forms.
The proportion of schools with sixth forms that were in deficit increased from 12 per cent in 2010-11 to 22 per cent in 2017-18, compared with an increase from only six to nine per cent among those without sixth forms.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We recognise that 16 to 19 funding rates are challenging for all providers at the moment and are looking carefully at this in the run-up to the next Spending Review.
“Our school sixth forms have a vital role to play in making sure people have the skills they need to get on in life. That is why we have protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19 year olds until 2020. We continue to allocate further funding for specific needs such as an extra £500m for providers to support disadvantaged students."
Today's Tes investigation reveals how a school losing its sixth form can impact on teachers and pupils.
Teachers told Tes that they lose the ability to teach their subject at the highest level and that younger pupils in schools lose role models who can help their aspire to stay in education.
Thomas Kirkwood, a teacher at a school in West Yorkshire consulting on closing its sixth form, said: “I am an English teacher, so for example with poetry you can explore poems' imagery and structure in more depth and detail with sixth-form students.”
However, some councils are promoting the move towards large sixth form centres on the grounds that they can be more financially viable and offer pupils more choice.
Bradford has the highest number of sixth forms closing nationally of any local authority area.
Across the Bradford district, four school sixth forms have closed in the past three years and plans to close down six more are being consulted on.
At the same time two large sixth-form free schools are being created in the city centre, with another two planned for.
A Bradford Council review of post-16 strategy says the authority believes that a school sixth form with fewer than 250 young people is unviable.
To read the full investigation into the future of school sixth forms, see the 17 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.