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pound;75m windfall narrows the gap with sixth forms;FE Focus

COLLEGES will get an extra pound;200 for each student taking three A-levels next year to introduce the new 16-19 curriculum, the Further Education Funding Council says. Students taking four A-levels, or equivalent, will be worth an extra pound;370 a year.

The pound;75m package, announced by the council's chief executive Professor David Melville, lessens the funding gap between colleges and school sixth forms teaching the same subjects. Schools have been told to meet the costs of the curriculum out of existing budgets.

The curriculum, published by the Government in March, proposes that students who currently take three A-levels should instead take five subjects in the first year, and three in the second.

A new single general national vocational qualification would be worth one A-level, rather than two as at present, enabling more students to mix the two. Reforms to vocational courses are still to be announced.

Professor Melville laid out for the first time how the new curriculum is likely to look, as well as how it is to be funded. A student's week will be broken down into curriculum units, designed to calculate both study time and funding.

In addition, all 16 to 19-year-old students will for the first time be entitled to specified tutorial sessions, to key skills teaching, and to enrichment activities such as sport or drama. These three combined are valued as equal to an A-level. Students who take more than the equivalent of three A-levels, one AS level and the key skills and enrichment package will not be funded at the same level for their extra units, Professor Melville said.

Students will have to be doing 18 units worth of work to be considered full-time - which will continue to be defined as spending at least 16 hours a week at college. But above a minimum of 12 units for the student's main subjects (for example, two A-levels), any extra units up to 27 could be built up in different ways: weaker students, for example, could take double key skills sessions and be funded as if they were taking another A-level. The FEFC is working on similar model for vocational courses, he said.

The new curriculum will involve more guided learning hours, Professor Melville said. The amount of extra time colleges will need to give to each student is not clear, because students currently spend an average of five hours a week on each A-level subject, but add on to that greatly varying amounts of individual study, tutorial time and extra activities.

Extra costs for extending the time taught will have to be met partly by "improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of colleges, including through larger class sizes and increased collaboration between providers", Professor Melville said.

Sixth-form college principals reacted with enthusiasm to the proposals, although earlier they had warmly endorsed calculations by the Association of Colleges which suggested that colleges would need more than pound;600 a year for each student taking three A-levels to pay for introducing the new curriculum.

The reforms imply "a significant increase in teaching and learning time", the AOC's director of FE development Dr John Brennan said. If all students currently taking A-levels moved across the broader mix of subjects, the colleges would need to recruit 3,000 staff and embark on large building programmes to accommodate students for the extra hours they would spend in college.

Principals were also concerned that the longer week would put extra pressure on those students who support themselves with part-time jobs - about 55 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds now work part-time.

Margaret Coleman, principal of Huddersfield New College, where more than 20 per cent of students are receiving means tested support, said: "We are quite concerned because we think there is an optimum number of hours that students can manage and they are being pushed to go beyond it."

Colleges would find the time demands of the new curriculum unmanageable if students did opt for five subjects in their first year, said Dr John Guy, principal of Farnborough sixth-form college in Hampshire: "I think the only way it can be managed is if students do four subjects in the first year, and add another AS level to their three A-levels in the second year. To do five subjects in year one is probably not sensible or possible."

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