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Show us the skills money

Schools expect sixth-forms to be cut as a result of the Learning and Skills Act. Sue Jones reports on TES survey findings

FEW people in school sixth forms and sixth-form centres believe the Government's reform of post-16 education will be adequately funded.

Deep-seated hostility and distrust which could undermine efforts for closer collaboration between schools and colleges were revealed in a national survey.

The survey of sixth forms and sixth-form centres, carried out for The TES, looked at reactions to the new financial arrangements which come into effect next April when the Learning and Skills Council takes over sixth-form funding.

A major concern is the extra costs of implementing Curriculum 2000. But, despite ministers' assurances, heads and faculty leaders say there is no sign of the promised extra funds.

One head said: "There are already funding difficulties in the current year due to the move from three to four A-levels as a result of Curriculum 2000. For an institute such as ours, these additional staffing costs amount to pound;50,000-70,000 and no additional funding has been provided to meet this."

These fears are shared by sixth-form and general FE colleges, a representative sample of which were included in the survey. The questions were sent to 200 sixth forms and sixth-form centres and 60 per cent responded.

There are concerns about the transparency of the funding process. Many fear that funding criteria will not recognise pastoral efforts and the curriculum enrichment of out-of-class activities provided by school sixth forms, such as the school play.

And there are fears that funding agreements will emphasise retention and completion rates and undermine general national vocational qualification courses where students get jobs before they finish their studies.

There is a widespread belief that failure to fund pay rises would be "disastrous" and would lead to successful industrial action. Few schools or sixth-form centres think it possible to pay school teachers different rates for the time they teach sixth-formers.

There are concerns over the curriculum, with fears that minority A-levels could be squeezed out by vocational qualifications and key skills. "GNVQs will secure greater funding than other courses," said one headteacher. "Schools may, therefore, feel pressure to expand in this area."

The survey shows that, despite exhortations from the Department for Education and Employment, there is only limited faith in the chance of improved collaboration. Half of the schools predict that there will be no improvement or, at best, say they cannot be sure that things will improve.

On the Government's hopes fr rationalisation of post-16 provision, there is strong belief that small sixth forms will go, even though 70 per cent of schools believe they will keep their sixth forms.

The schools thought most likely to be cut are in urban areas or have small sixth forms. Schools tend to see the FE college as a large and potentially engulfing threat, while FE colleges tend to see schools as being protected and pampered.

Schools which expect to keep and maybe expand their sixth forms are large or in rural areas where transport to a college is difficult. They are often grammar schools or ones with strong parental support such as church schools. Such schools often perceive themselves to be fireproof against external pressures to change.

Small comprehensives, on the other hand, feel threatened and expect to lose their sixth forms. Schools which lose sixth forms also expect to have difficulties recruiting staff.

Some predictthat rationalisation will mean niche marketing and the end of a comprehensive sixth form, especially in smaller schools. What happened would hinge on the political clout of interested parties, such as grammar school parents, according to the survey.

There is still some perception that school sixth forms are for the able and FE colleges for the less able. This creates barriers to closer co-operation with the colleges that reject such an elitist line. Schools see collaboration with other schools as a more positive solution than collaboration with a college.

The new local learning and skills councils have considerable work to do persuading schools that they will be working in their best interests. The LSCs are perceived as beyond local democratic control. Heads say that business influence is valid, but ask how well are businesses run?

The councils are also seen as creating yet another layer of bureaucracy in addition to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Offfice for Standards in Education. Many schools said LEAs felt sidelined and might therefore be inclined to withdraw from 16-plus education.


Will new learning and skills council funding arrangements rationalise post-16 provision in your area? (%)

Yes No Don't know

53 35 12

Will the new Act improve collaboration between sixth forms and FE colleges ?

Yes No Don't know

50 42 8

Do you expect to lose your sixth forms within the next 10 years?

Yes No Don't know

20 70 10

Will the Act lead to the creation of new 16 to 19 institutions?

Yes No Don't know

7 83 10

Will the funding arrangements meet the challenges of Curriculum 2000?

Yes No Don't know

13 69 18

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