School and colleges are cutting their provision by offering three A-levels instead of four in a bid to protect themselves from funding cuts, today's A-level results suggest.
Figures reveal there has been a drop of almost 17,000 entries since last year, and exam board and college leaders have warned that the trend could have been caused by cash-strapped sixth-forms and colleges opting to slim down the number of courses on offer.
At the launch of this year’s results, Mark Dawe, chief executive of exam board OCR, said that financial pressures for post-16 providers had prompted many to stop offering four subjects as they try to balance the books.
“If you talk to most universities, three A-levels [are] adequate,” he said today. “You’ve got a funding system that is tightening up, so schools are looking at their offer and I think you’ll see, generally, schools slipping from a trend of four [subjects] down to three."
Last year, it emerged that the funding rate for 18-year-olds was being reduced, prompting outrage from the further education sector.
But with transitional protection coming to an end in 2015, Sixth Form Colleges’ Association deputy chief executive James Kewin said he expected budgets at an institutional level would “fall off a cliff”.
“It might well account for the overall reduction [in entries],” he said. “Rather than dropping off the cliff, some colleges are trying to gradually reduce their costs by reducing the size of the programme offered.
“Next year, unless something changes in terms of funding, I expect even more colleges will go down to a core three A-levels offer.”
Sue Kirkham, the Association of School and College Leaders’ curriculum and assessment specialist, said that institutions were cutting their post-16 provision purely for “financial reasons”.
“The funding changes post-16 are meaning that schools and colleges are struggling to keep their offer up,” she said. “One of the obvious ways to deal with that is to reduce the subject choice. People are very reluctant to do it; I haven’t heard any of our members say they would do it happily and willingly.
“They all think the right thing is for students to start with four subjects and then perhaps drop one at the end of Year 12. We get the impression they are still making their minds up about what they are going to do.”
Taking one fewer qualification could also deter students from taking difficult subjects deemed to be “risky”, such as modern languages, Ms Kirkham added. “If you only get to choose three subjects, you’ve got to choose three subjects you’ll be really confident you’ll be able to succeed in at A-level. It will reduce their choice and it will affect particular subjects, we think.”
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