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A-level reform: Top universities want more money for schools

Elite Russell Group universities want ministers to provide schools with more funding, teacher training and resources to ensure that reformed A-levels are taught properly.

The warning comes as heads' leaders told TES that many schools were already facing very “difficult decisions” about which subjects they are able to offer in sixth forms.

Academics are concerned that squeezed school and college budgets will stop them from allowing pupils to take fourth A-levels in crucial subjects, such as further maths or languages.

In a letter written earlier this month and published today, Professor Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, says: “We are aware that schools and colleges are concerned that funding constraints may affect the ability of students to study some of the subjects which we have reviewed (for example, further mathematics) as a fourth A-level.

“I wish to emphasise the importance of this issue…for Russell Group universities.”

Professor Thrift was writing in his capacity as the chair of the A-level Content Advisory Board (Alcab) – set up for universities to advise on A-levels – as it published its recommendations on what should go into new language, geography and maths A-levels, which are to be introduced for teaching from 2016.

His letter, written to former education secretary Michael Gove before his move, also stresses the need for more teacher training and resources to ensure that schools are ready to teach for the new qualifications.

“With the exception of classical languages, all the [Alcab subject] panels concluded that concentrated work on teacher development and teaching resources is likely to be required if teachers across England are to be equipped to teach the revised syllabuses from September 2016,” Professor Thrift adds.

Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said schools were already having to think carefully about what they could afford.

“We are very worried about the budgets we have got and the implications on curriculum provision,” he said. “I am sure that the government understands the scale of the problem, but, as yet, no solution has been presented.

“Schools and colleges are still having to make some very hard decisions and subjects like further maths are under threat in many of them.

"They may have to make cuts in the subjects that are particularly valued by universities. The problem is here now and I am hearing this from all kinds of schools and colleges.”

The government has sought to reassure schools and universities without offering any specifics. On the day before Mr Gove’s departure to become chief whip, he replied to Professor Thrift, writing: “Thank you for your comments on support for larger A-level programmes, including funding for students taking four A-levels.

“I agree that we should encourage schools and colleges to stretch their high-performing students, and we will soon announce how we might continue to protect subjects such as further mathematics and languages, taken as fourth A-levels, beyond the current funding arrangements.”

Related stories:

GCSE reform: What it will mean for your school - April 2014

Schools face five solid years of constant exam revolution - April 2014

Heads warn of 'enormous pressure' as even more GCSE and A-level changes are revealed - April 2014

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