Funding cuts are narrowing A-level subject choice, headteachers warn

13th August 2015 at 10:15
funding cuts limiting A-level choice

Funding cuts for 16-19 education are starting to narrow pupils’ choice of A-level subjects, headteachers warned this morning as students received their results. 

There has been a drop this year in the number of entries for subjects that have smaller intakes, including music, German and design and technology.

School leaders have warned that this could be a sign that cash-strapped schools and colleges have stopped offering the courses because they can no longer afford to keep them going with small classes.

“What I think we’re seeing here is evidence that the restraints on 16-19 funding are having an impact on what students are able to choose,” Malcolm Trobe, said deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“Schools will either not be able to offer those subjects because they can’t afford to put them on, or when they do offer the subject they don’t get a viable group, so they have to close that subject down. So the subject choices are being restricted for students,” he said.

Russell Hobby, general of the NAHT headteachers' union said that school sixth forms and sixth-form colleges were facing “severe and increasing financial pressures”.

Today’s figures show the number of entries for A-level music has dropped by 7.2 per cent since last year. Entries for law, German, design and technology and physical education are also down. At AS level, drama saw a drop of almost 6 per cent in the number of entries.

Mr Trobe said a drop in the number of students taking these courses could have a damaging effect. “The creative industries are a huge strength to this country so big drops in music are quite a concern,” he said.

A fall in design and technology entries was a blow to the government's science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) agenda, Mr Trobe added.

He said that the drop in the number of students taking German A-level would diminish the pool of language teachers in future, at a time when schools were under pressure through the Ebac performance measure to increase language teaching.

Mr Hobby called for the government to draw up a national strategy to address “the continuing gradual decline in entries to modern foreign languages”.

But Spanish bucked the trend this year with a 14.4 per cent increase in A-level entries.

Today’s results also revealed a 29.1 per cent increase in the number of students taking A-level computing, from 4,171 in 2014 to 5,383 this year.

Lesley Davies, vice president for quality and standards at Pearson, said the subject’s rise in popularity was in part because the technology industry was seen as “exciting”. 

“It’s cool to code nowadays for a young person, so I think going into computing industries is an area to look seriously at,” she said.

However, 92 per cent of the entrants in the subject were male, and Mr Trobe warned that the subject’s “awful” gender balance must be addressed. “We want a big push on females in the Stem agenda,” he said. 

The Department for Education said it had protected the schools budget and "ended the unfair difference between post-16 schools and colleges by funding them per student".

The DfE cut the amount of funding it provided to sixth forms to per-student levels in the FE sector in a bid to make the sector more equitable, despite years of campaigning from FE colleges to have their funding increased. 

A DfE spokesperson added: “Today’s results show a year on year increase in overall entries to A-level modern languages and we expect that to continue as a result of the longer term trend in rising GCSE entries for those subjects. We are modernising design and technology with a new curriculum and reforming GCSEs and A-levels so students will take a high-quality course that will help them secure careers in engineering and design.”


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