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Sixth-form colleges warn of redundancies as A-levels are axed

Sixth-form colleges are warning of staff redundancies as A-level reforms lead to some subjects being axed from the timetable.

Exams regulator Ofqual has proposed ditching a raft of subjects, in a radical overhaul of A-levels being phased in over three years from next September. Although final decisions have not yet been made, subjects earmarked for the chop include environmental studies, human biology, film studies and performance studies.

But sixth-form colleges fear this may lead to tough staffing decisions, placing some teachers' jobs in jeopardy.

Jane Machell, principal of Alton College in Hampshire, said staff whose subjects disappeared could be vulnerable. “When staff are under-hours because their subjects are not being continued, colleges will be faced with retraining them or making them redundant,” she added.

“Because we’re a large sixth-form college we have got the scope to retrain those teachers so they can teach something else, but in some colleges that might not be possible.”

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges' Association, said the implications of the overhaul would only be known once it was clear which subjects students were choosing instead.

“If students who would have chosen environmental studies go on to choose geography then the teacher would probably be able to teach that and it would be business as normal,” he said.

“But if they are tempted to choose a wholly different area that teacher might be surplus to requirements, and if they can’t be redeployed then clearly they will be in difficulties.”

Ofqual said it planned to drop some subjects because there was too much overlap with other qualifications, while others might disappear because exam boards were not prepared to invest to make sure they met tough new requirements.

Sixth-form colleges did not have the flexibility of 11-18 schools and were particularly vulnerable to changes in the range of subjects on offer, Mr Igoe said.

Numbers in some subjects had already been affected by the introduction of the English Baccalaureate performance measure and the emphasis on the Russell Group’s list of "facilitating" subjects, which promoted traditional subjects, he added.

“It is inevitable that the specialist nature of sixth-form colleges means it is going to be difficult to re-deploy teachers and the smaller the sixth form the more difficult it is.”

Stephen Carville, principal of Peter Symonds College in Winchester, said he was hopeful he would be able to re-deploy staff to teach other subjects, but this might not always be possible.

Human biology teachers could switch to biology, while the college plans to offer a vocational qualification in performance studies. But staff in other subjects could be more vulnerable.

“We’re not looking at redundancies in the short term, but I can see that if film studies and a whole range of other subjects go then it is possible we would have to consider redundancies, depending on student choices,” he said.

Related stories:

Ofqual to axe 24 GCSE and A-level subjects - 4 June 2014

Schools to receive extra cash if pupils take IB or A levels in "facilitating" subjects - 14 Oct 2013

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