Sixth form education in England 'uniquely narrow and short'

Post-16 education in England is 'low hours and low duration' compared to other countries, conclude academics

Julia Belgutay

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Sixth-form college education in England is “uniquely narrow and short” compared to other high-performing countries, according to research carried out by academics at the UCL Institute of Education.

The research, commissioned by the Sixth Form College Association (SFCA) ahead of a parliamentary debate on the issue last night, shows that while in England 15 to 17 hours of tuition per week has become the norm, this is significantly below what is offered in a number of other countries – and only half of the 30-plus hours of tuition received by students in Shanghai.

It concludes that the English model is “low hours and short duration”, and "English upper secondary education [...] remains uniquely narrow and short when compared with other relatively successful systems". In Singapore, students can receive up to 32 hours of tuition and support if they take four elective subjects, and in Sweden the study programme involves 19 hours of tuition but runs for three years, rather than two.

According to a SFCA briefing on the research, the system in England is also narrower than elsewhere. “A three-subject diet will become the norm from next year,” it states, while in Shanghai, students study eight fundamental subjects, in addition to a range of other subjects. "Students in other leading education systems receive more tuition time, study more subjects, and in some cases can benefit from a three-year programme of study rather than two," it adds.

Funding for sixth form education in England below that of other parts of the education sector

The SFCA also claims that “sixth form funding in England sits at the bottom of a funding chasm”, with the average of £4,583 per 16-18 student being 20 per cent less than the funding for 11-16 year olds in secondary schools, and 47 per cent below the average university tuition fee of £8,636.

“To avoid falling further behind our international competitors, SFCA is urging the secretary of state to move away from funding sixth formers in England based on an arbitrary funding rate and to conduct a review of funding to ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high quality curriculum,” it states.

In last night's debate, former shadow education minister and headteacher Nic Dakin said that despite huge pressures on mainstream 16 to 18 education, the government had been able to spend money on "unproven, untested new and different types of provision for 16 to 18-year-olds". "This is money that could have been spent on mainstream students, and I believe it has been an unwise indulgence in what I would see as political peccadillos at a time when there's a contraction in both the population and budgets."

Education minister Nick Gibb said said he recognised the resources were tight for 16 to 19 education and training: "In recent years we have had to make some post-16 savings while working hard to sustain funding levels for schools, bearing in mind the success in school pre-16 is the best predictor of outcomes in post-16 education. But we have also made clear commitments to 16 to 19 education, where we have protected the base rate of funding of £4,000 per student for all types of provider until 2020."

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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