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Sixth-form gloom over post-16 reform

TES survey sheds light on future relations between schools and colleges. Ngaio Crequer reports

CLASS sizes will get bigger and minority subjects may be threatend in school sixth forms and sixth-form centres as a result of the Government's reform of post-16 education and training, a TES survey has revealed.

Moreover, there is little enthusiasm for collaboration between schools, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges.

Many institutions think that, in the long-term, collaboration between school sixth forms and local FE colleges will be inevitable. Some in the survey think this will not happen voluntarily though co-operation does already take place in many areas.

Rural schools said they do not expect rationalisation to occur for logistical reasons, such as lack of transport or huge catchment areas.

And there is concern about the new learning and skills councils. "We are very unhappy with the concept of LSClocal partnership. Schools are badly under-represented in the decision-making process and there are no democratic controls on the LSC."

Most respondents did not think local education authorities would take up the challenge offered to them in the Learning and Skills Act and create new 16-19 institutions, and one said that "LEAs might withdraw altogether."

The TES surveyed 200 sixth forms and sixth-form centres and 60 per cent responed. "I am convinced that schools will face additonal pressure to maintain a very efficient staff:student ratio and only run subjects if sufficient numbers of students are provided," said one respondent.

Many institutions thought that the start of Curriculum 2000, the broader sixth-form curriculum which begins this term, will lead to larger classes. Schools are convinced they will have to cope with an increased number of post-16 pupils without any more money.

There was a feeling that the LSCs would not be able to cope with the "challenges and opportunities" of Curriculum 2000.

Colleges have not been funded for pay rises since 1993. The TES asked if respondents expected this to continue when the learning and skills councils took over sixth-form funding .

"Industrial unrest is a distinct possibility," said one. "It is difficult to construct a way to separate pre- from post-16 involvement at teacher level - this is a crucial issue for the sixth-form colleges."

And despite the Government's insistence that school sixth forms, if they maintain their numbers, are safe, there is concern about their fate. As one put it: "I believe all schools will lose their sixth forms because of this Government's policies."

Sixth-form colleges are escaping the worst effects of the national shortage of teachers, an analysis reveals this week.

FE Focus, 35

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