Where are the A-level funds?;Letter

16th April 1999 at 01:00
"SIXTH-FORM classes are too small", says minister (TES, April 2). Unfortunately Baroness Blackstone is not being properly briefed about the contemporary nature of A-level teaching, sixth-form organisation and funding.

Here we are very keen to broaden our 16 to 19 curriculum. Our present strategy is to require our sixth-formers to study four AS-levels in Year 12 decreasing to three A-levels in Year 13.

Our AS cohort in September 2000 should be 180 students. If they take five AS-levels we shall have to timetable about 10 additional groups (average group size 18). That will be an additional 45 periods per week needing two-plus teachers, which equals pound;50,000 per annum, or 2.5 per cent of our annual budget.

Baroness Blackstone says that schools have benefited from substantial extra resources. This school, like innumerable secondary schools, has not. Between 1991 and 1997, rate-capping reduced our budget in real terms by about 10 per cent. We coped by, among many other measures, increasing our sixth-form group sizes and reducing our general studies programme.

To generate an additional pound;50,000 out of our present sixth-form staffing would require me to push maximum group sizes from the present 18 to 24 andor cease offering "minority" A-levels such as German and music. I cannot contemplate either of these measures. It would be prevailing once too often on the goodwill of staff who have coped so well through the cumulative funding difficulties of the past few years and be counterproductive.

For these important A-level reforms to be effective, the Department for Education and Employment must find some additional funds. These could be found in various ways; a small shift in overall funding allocations from key stages 1 and 2 (the main beneficiaries in recent years) or from the national funds earmarked for information technology and for performance-related pay appraisal, or encouraging schools to charge parents for books and materials.

The present DFEE style is to talk down to us. Ministers claim to know what is best and expect teachers to deliver, however well-argued their objections. It won't work with the 16-19 reforms, or anything else for that matter.

Martin Roberts Headteacher The Cherwell school Marston Ferry Road, Oxford

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