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Sixth forms fall short

England’s sixth-form colleges don’t compare favourably with others around the world, according to new research – and this seems largely down to lack of funding

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England’s sixth-form colleges don’t compare favourably with others around the world, according to new research – and this seems largely down to lack of funding

If you compare the performance of the UK and South Korea in international league tables, you could be forgiven for thinking that our educators have far more to learn from their East Asian counterparts than they could ever hope to pick up from us.

But the recent BBC documentary School Swap: Korea Style suggested that, despite the much-vaunted success of the likes of South Korea in global rankings, there are one or two things the UK can teach them when it comes to creativity and extracurricular activities.

While South Korean students working late in the evening might look enviously at the non-academic activities available in your average British college, research highlighted in Parliament this week makes it abundantly clear that there’s far more we could be doing.

A study by academics at the UCL Institute of Education, commissioned by the Sixth-Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA), compared the offering in English sixth-form colleges with Shanghai, Singapore, Sweden, the Canadian province of Alberta and New South Wales in Australia. It found that the other systems “generally require a wider range of subjects and additional experiences and breadth for matriculation”.

England’s approach to post-16 education is ‘short of what appears to be an international norm for advanced economies’

England’s approach, the research concludes, is “short of what appears to be an international norm for advanced economies”, and “runs the risk of being damaging” to young people.

The reason for this, the SFCA suggests, is clear: average funding per 16-19 student is 20 per cent less than that for 11-16s.

For two of the most crucial years in an individual’s educational development, the amount of funding available drops off a cliff edge. The SFCA is calling on education secretary Justine Greening to provide funding that matches the “realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high-quality curriculum”.

Given the furore that the Department for Education already faces over plans for a national fair funding formula for schools, it seems unlikely that it will want to open up the war on another front by effectively pitting the pre-16 and post-16 sectors against one another. But the price of inaction could be our education system falling even further behind its global competitors.

@stephenexley

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