Blackburn College is considering doubling its unique no-fail guarantee for A-level students to pound;10,000, as it made it through its first year of results with no payouts.
A-level pass rates rose yesterday at the college from 99 per cent to 99.2 per cent, with just three among the 400 students failing to gain their qualifications. These students had already been ruled out from the pound;5,000 guarantee payment because they had not met the requirements for attendance and completing assignments.
Ian Clinton, the college principal, had faced criticism for "rewarding failure" and a "cavalier use of taxpayers' money" when he introduced the guarantee of a pound;5,000 payout for students who failed to pass their A levels. He announced the move two years ago as a sign of confidence that students would succeed.
Speaking this week, Mr Clinton said that the guarantee has worked and that students value their qualifications and progression to university too much to prefer collecting the cash.
"We wouldn't be opposed to considering offering an increase to pound;10,000, but we would need to get it right," he said. "The criteria are very tight so that we don't pay out and we don't want to make it so attractive to fail.
"Universities are often interested in people passing first time in applications, and our students aren't stupid. They don't want to grab a quick pound;5,000 and have to hang about for a year. They think it's better to get their education and training.
"We are not paying out pound;50,000 of public money because the principal's daft."
Mr Clinton said that, in a deprived city where the average income is about pound;18,000 a year, the college tells students that they will earn an average of pound;25,000 a year on leaving university, meaning that gaining qualifications and entering work quickly would be more rewarding than collecting the guarantee.
The show of confidence increased interest in Blackburn College, Mr Clinton said, and as a result it is attracting students who previously left Blackburn for sixth forms in neighbouring towns. And students this year are progressing to more academic universities, such as Lancaster and Manchester.
"When I arrived here eight, nine years ago, we were very much seen as the tech down the road and if you couldn't go to Runshaw College in Chorley, or wherever, then you went to Blackburn," he said. "There's also a little bit of `white flight', dare I say it." More than a third of the college's students are Asian.
Blackburn's guarantee is perhaps the ultimate expression of colleges' drive to improve success rates, which began in the 1990s when government incentivised them to reduce high drop-out rates. But the use of success rates has come in for criticism from government adviser Alison Wolf, who argued in her review of vocational education that they encourage colleges to put students on less demanding courses.
Mr Clinton rejected the suggestion. "We push them," he said. "I don't think a young person wants to spend three years at Blackburn College if they're able to get to university in two years. I don't think students as customers would tolerate it."
He admitted that there was some disappointment about Blackburn's results, however. "Six of our students were sent back to Pakistan three or four weeks before they were due to take their exams," he said, adding that they had been expecting good results. "Their parents believed they were becoming a bit too Western."
ON THE MONEY
Conditions for pound;5,000 A-level guarantee:
- Students must attend and attempt all exams.
- They must have 95 per cent attendance.
- They must hand all work in on time, completed to required standards.
- The guarantee only applies to students taking three A levels
- It does not apply to general studies.
Original headline: A-level no-fail guarantee may double to pound;10,000