Poor results threat to small sixth forms

Students gain better A-level grades in large schools or colleges. Jon Slater reports

MORE than 100 small school sixth forms could face closure after Government figures revealed that their students underachieve at A-level.

Students in sixth forms with fewer than 50 pupils gain an average two grade D A-levels and one grade E at AS-Level. The total point score is 40 per cent below the national school average. And they lag even further behind sixth-formers in college.

It could prove the final nail in the coffin of small sixth forms. Ministers are known to be concerned about their high cost per student, as well as the lack of course options.

The Government defeated an opposition amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill which would have prevented small sixth forms being closed because of their high cost.

However, sixth forms remain popular with parents and the

Government is wary of offending middle England in the run up to a general election.

Action is unlikely before the Office for Standards in Education takes over full responsibility for inspecting 16 to 19 education.

The new inspection regime, introduced in the Bill and due to come into force next April, will include "value for money" measures which will be used to compare cost and quality in schools and colleges providing A-level courses.

On average, schools spend pound;1,500 more than colleges for each student taking three A-levels and critical inspection reports could help shift public opinion.

OFSTED's irst 16 to 19 inspection, in the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington, recommended removing all sixth-form courses from local schools and transferring it to the further education sector.

The extra funding for schools has been a bone of contention for colleges for many years. "Sixth form colleges have been funded very poorly in comparison to school sixth forms. What we've achieved, we've achieved on a tilted playing field," said Nick Brown, principal of Oldham Sixth Form College.

"It doesn't seem very sensible to me to have highly subsidised sixth-form colleges in schools. When we're trying to widen participation, it seems odd that you should have cost-effective provision getting less money than inefficient provision."

Defenders of small sixth forms have always pointed to the quality of education to justify their higher costs. However, the figures for 199899 show that their results compare unfavourably with other school sixth forms.

On average, small-school students get a points score of 9.2. Seventeen-year-olds in bigger schools averaged15.3, while those in sixthform colleges and schools with more than 200 pupils gained an average of 16.6.

The figures were given to MPs by Malcolm Wicks, minister for lifelong learning. Although the data is only for sixth forms of fewer than fifty pupils, those with no more than 100 pupils could also be at risk. There are 115 secondary schools with sixth forms of fewer than 50 students and a further 319 with between 50 and 100.

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