New A-level rules force pupils into 50-hour weeks

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Sixth-formers are working a 50-hour week because of the Government's decision to broaden A-levels, secondary heads said yesterday.

Sixth-formers are working a 50-hour week because of the Government's decision to broaden A-levels, secondary heads said yesterday.

New exams, which mean that they study four rather than three A-level subjects in the first year of the sixth form, are putting pupils under more pressure than ever before, according to leaders of the Secondary Heads Association. They also warned that students would have to cut back on their part-time jobs if standards were to be maintained.

Since teachers recommend that A-level students should spend at least five hours a week on homework for each subject, their working hours have increased dramatically. The introduction of a voluntary key skills qualification in communication, numbers and information technology has added more lessons and homework to their workload. Many now work an extra 10 hours a week, taking them to 50 hours a week.

Heads say there is a distinction between teaching time and learning time. Traditional private study periods have been cut sharply and some schools have had to scrap them completely, they said.

John Dunford, the association's general secretary, welcomed the decision to broaden the curriculum, but added: "There are higher expectations of sixth-formers than ever before from schools and universities. The longer working hours are an inevitable result of maintaining the same standard of study in an increasing number of subjects. It is an important plank of government policy that A-levels should be no easier."

Richard Fawcett, head of Thurston Community College, Bury St Edmonds, and the association's new president, said: "Many young people have jobs at the weekends and during the week. They are likely to be put under considerable pressure. Many depend on this income to keep them in full-time education."

Studies have shown that limited paid work can be beneficial to pupils' academic work. Mr Dunford said the suggested limit used to be about 10 hours but that it would need to come down to between five and six because of the exam changes.

Heads also pointed to increased class sizes of up to one-third as they tried to fit in extra subjects. The Government has given local authorities an extra £35m to help pay for the reforms but not all have passed the money on to schools. While some heads have been able to hire more teachers, others have increased class sizes, sometimes to 29 pupils. Increases from 18 to 24 are not uncommon.

Mr Dunford urged ministers to ensure extra money for A-levels was more clearly identified next year. He said some schools which had received money had been unable to improve staffing because of the teacher recruitment crisis.