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Sixth forms face drop-out penalty

Schools with sixth forms face far longer inspections in future. They also stand to lose thousands of pounds if students drop out of A-level courses.

The rule changes, which have been criticised by the Secondary Heads Association, are being introduced as a result of post-16 education reforms ushered in by the Learning and Skills Act. The aim is to ensure that schools and further education colleges compete on equal terms.

At present, secondary school inspection teams allocate eight days to the sixth form (the equivalent of two days each for four inspectors). But from next April schools with the largest sixth forms - of more than 400 students - will be allocated up to 42 inspector days. Average-sized schools will face an extra 20 days of scrutiny.

The funding changes have still to be finalised. Colleges currently lose up to half their per-capita funding if a student drops out early in the second year. Ten per cent of the funding is also withheld until a student completes a course - a rule that the colleges have always viewed as payment by results.

Similar rules will apply to schools from April 2002. School funding is at present based on the January snashot of student rolls but the Government believes this is unfair.

Stephen Grix, head of post-16 inspections at the Office for Standards in Education, outlined the changes at the annual conference of the Association for College Management in Solihull this week. College principals had complained that the differences in funding and inspections gave an unfair advantage to schools that already received an average of pound;1,500 more per student.

He was also highly critical of the lack of information in school reports which prevents inspectors from comparing sixth forms and colleges.

"If you read an OFSTED report, you would find it extremely difficult to make decisions about the school's future. Inspectors have only eight days to look at sixth forms - some of which have 400 pupils, so there should be much more scrutiny."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, says OFSTED is over-reacting. "Schools expect a more rigorous system of inspection relating to quality and value for money. But this should not need substantial extra time. Nor is there any need to have payment by results."

ACM reports, 29

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