Schools putting off poor post-16s

The lowest socio-economic groups are most likely to continue studying post-16 where there is a system of FE and sixth-form colleges, new research has found.

School sixth forms are a deterrent, say researchers from Greenwich University. Stay-on rates in areas where schools had no sixth forms were up to 33 per cent higher than those in areas with sixth forms.

They also found that the type of institution had virtually no impact on post-16 stay-on rates in areas dominated by large tertiary colleges.

School sixth forms are selective and elitist, with better funds and a much narrower curriculum, say Geoff Stanton of the University of Greenwich and Mick Fletcher, consultant and former research director at the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

Their challenge to the Government's claim that "choice, diversity and specialisation" bring big benefits is based on a study of 100,000 16-year-olds.

"Once account is taken of social background and prior attainment, there is no significant difference in performance between the types of post-16 provider," they say in their report, 14-19 Institutional Arrangements in England.

Failure to close the funding gap between schools and colleges - still around 10 to 13 per cent - appears to have made things worse. The extra 3.7 per cent for colleges pledged by the Learning and Skills Council this week for 2007 is unlikely to make a significant difference.

"The gap is compounded by an FE funding system that favours 16-year-olds already studying at level 3 (A-level) over those still working at level 2 (GCSE) and below," they say.

Drawing on work by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the Government's youth cohort studies and their own research, the authors conclude that school sixth forms work against efforts to improve social mobility.

* The Government announced on Thursday that asylum seekers will no longer be entitled to free further education, and UK residents will only get free English for Speaker of Other Languages tuition if they are on benefits or low pay.


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