Exclusive: Core A-level courses scrapped after Michael Gove cuts £100m from sixth-form colleges

Anger that funds are being diverted from sixth-form colleges to free schools that help far fewer pupils

Michael Gove will be embroiled in a fresh controversy on Monday as it emerges that his department’s savage spending cuts have forced sixth-form colleges to scrap A-level courses in core subjects such as languages and maths, regarded by the Government as crucial to the future of Britain’s economy.

It comes after a weekend in which the Conservative Education Secretary was involved in a furious row with his Coalition colleagues over his decision to dismiss Labour's Baroness Sally Morgan from her post as chair of Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats described the move as an attempt to "politicise something that should be kept out of politics".

In research seen by The Independent, leaders of the country's sixth-form colleges claim they have lost more than £100 million in funding over the past three years, with the result that courses in core A-level subjects - whose importance Mr Gove has been anxious to champion - are being axed.

The survey reveals that almost half (48 per cent) of the country's sixth-form colleges have cut courses, while 78 per cent have been forced to reduce staffing levels, resulting in larger class sizes. The country's 93 sixth-form colleges educate more than 150,000 pupils, most of whom are studying for their A-levels.

Read more
Editorial: Mr Gove's zeal for free schools has damaged sixth-form colleges
Is extending the school day a good idea? We asked the experts
Sharpen the axe, minister: There should be more political appointments, not fewer
Michael Gove: A revolutionary communist could lead schools watchdog  

The college leaders are also incensed that the Govern ment has spent £62m setting up nine new free schools, offering education for 16 to 19-year-olds, which between them have just 1,557 pupils - less than the average number enrolled in just one sixth-form college. They estimate that the Government is spending more than £39,616 for every student at the free schools, compared to just £4,000 on those at sixth-form colleges.

In a speech today, Mr Gove will come out fighting with a passionate defence of his school reforms, claiming his aim is "simple - when you visit a school in England standards are so high all round that you should not be able to tell whether it's in the state sector or a fee paying independent". He will argue that the days of the "bog standard" comprehensive are over, with state schools improving across the board.

But his the speech will be made against a backdrop of falling spending on sixth-forms. "Slashing sixth-form funding to protect schools means the Government is building a very well appointed road to nowhere," said James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), which carried out the research.

"Courses are being cut - particularly those that the Government is keen to see grow - modern foreign languages, STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths], class sizes are increasing and industrial unrest is on the increase. The curriculum is being seriously impoverished."

He added: "Our members felt bad enough having to make cuts in the name of deficit reduction. But the latest funding cut coupled with the release of startling new data that highlights the Government's largesse in funding the creation of new sixth-form providers...has taken this sense of anger and injustice to a new level."

The analysis by the SFCA shows that budgets were slashed by 10 per cent three years ago, 6 per cent in 2012 and a further 1.2 per cent in 2013. The cuts stem from the fact the Government's pledge to maintain funding for education only covers the years of compulsory education from the ages of five to 16.

On the establishment of the nine new free schools, Mr Kewin said: "Our argument would be there was no need for much of this new provision in the first place, particularly when SFCs are being subjected to savage cuts. It would have cost around £7.2m to educate these 1,557 students in existing sixth-form providers of some kind."

The colleges also point out that they have to pay VAT of £30m a year, while schools and academies are exempt. Matthew Hancock, the Conservative minister responsible for sixth-form colleges, has rejected exempting them from VAT, arguing that this would open the door to a similar demand from further education colleges, costing £150m a year.

Officially, the sixth-forms are funded by the Education Funding Agency, a quango set up to finance post-16 education, and Mr Hancock is a joint posting between Mr Gove's Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. But Mr Gove has told the colleges they are ultimately his responsibility.

In his speech - to be made at one of the sixth-form free schools, the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford - Mr Gove will argue: "For many years commentators have lamented poor discipline, entrenched illiteracy, widespread innumeracy, the flight from rigour, the embrace of soft subjects, the collapse of faith in liberal learning and the erosion of excellence in science and technology.

"The widespread view has been that the only way to get a really good education for your children was to escape - either into a better postcode or into the private sector - both, of course, extorting a hefty toll from your pocket."

Citing the fact that 250,000 fewer pupils are now taught in under-performing schools, he will add: "That pessimistic view is no longer tenable. Because the facts show - beyond any reasonable doubt - that English state education is starting to show a sustained and significant improvement."

A spokeswoman for the DfE said the Government was ending the "historic unfair" funding between schools and colleges at sixth-form level - and had taken action to protect those likely to face the biggest impact as a result of the changes.

Case study: New College, Pontefract, Yorkshire

Pauline Hagen took over as principal of New College in Pontefract, Yorkshire, three years ago - and has never known a year when she has not had to make cuts. Shortly after being appointed she was asked to slash the budget by £900,000. One of the first casualties was the German A-level course.

The following year there were cuts of between £150,000 and £200,000, which meant spending on administrative and support staff was hit as she strove to protect teaching jobs. The college was also forced to prune its spending on "enrichment funding", which offers support and pastoral care to students.

She is remarkably upbeat about the future, believing that sixth-form colleges are still able to offer a wider variety of courses due to their size (New College has around 1,900 students). Despite the cuts, the college's performance has improved with 91.7 per cent of students passing exams last year.

Case study: Colchester Sixth-form College, Essex

Ian MacNaughton, principal of Colchester Sixth-Form College in Essex Ian MacNaughton, principal of Colchester Sixth-Form College in Essex Ian MacNaughton, principal of Colchester Sixth-Form College in Essex, believes that institutions like his are becoming an "endangered species". By 2018, he anticipates that most colleges will have lost about a third of their funding.

They are not alone in their plight. School sixth-forms have also suffered as a result of not being covered by the Coalition's pledge to maintain education spending, which only applies to pupils between the ages of five and 16.

But sixth-form colleges are unable to move money away from relatively better funded areas, because they do not have any. Furthermore, unlike schools, they have to pay VAT. Mr MacNaughton presides over one of the biggest colleges in England and Wales, with 3,100 students enrolled.

During the three years of cuts, he has seen class sizes rise and has had to axe some courses. The college offers the International Baccalaureate but no longer does courses in economics and computing. Enrichment courses which include sports, drama and other out-of-hours activities have also suffered.


Michael Gove: State school children should have the same education as independently educated

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

SEN Science Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum + SEN allowance: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are ...

MLD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: MLD teachers required West Midlands...

Media Studies Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for a M...

History Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup