Sixth-form centres warn government spending cuts may stop them offering A-levels

Exclusive: Some colleges will lose a third of funding between 2011 and 2016

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The Independent Online

Top sixth-form centres are warning that their ability to offer A-levels is in jeopardy because of impending government spending cuts.

Principals of the leading 11 best-performing sixth-form colleges in the country for A-level results are also warning of the prospect of rising class sizes and teacher redundancies.

“Parents out there didn’t hear the message that the Conservative Party intended to slash A-level funding during the election campaign,” said Nick Burnham, principal of Cardinal Newman Sixth Form College in Preston, Lancashire.

He said his college – with more than 3,000 students, it is one of the biggest in the country and ranked third-best for improving pupil performance between enrolment and taking exams – will lose £1.7m worth of protected government funding from cuts next year.

He warned, however, that other colleges would be even worse off: “Some colleges will fail and those that do survive are going to have to reduce the curriculum offer they make to students and there will be less enrichment in the curriculum  – sport, the arts, music, the sorts of things that sixth-forms offer.”

The country’s 93 sixth-form colleges are in this dilemma, partly because the Conservatives’ election pledge to maintain education spending only covered provision for five- to 16-year-olds.  As a result, they believe, much of the £450m in education savings announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, last week will come from sixth-form budgets.


Andrew Parkin, principal of St Dominic’s Sixth Form College in Harrow, west London, said one route to improving funding would potentially be by taking in more students, but he added: “We’re at capacity. Our class sizes at A-level are already 24, which – for an A-level class – is as big as it ought to be.”

The 11 colleges voicing their concerns are members of the Maple Group – a sort of Russell Group for sixth-form colleges, named after the conference centre in Birmingham where the association was formed in 2013

They include Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, which was singled out in a recent report from the Sutton Trust education charity as the state institution with the best record of supplying students for Oxford and Cambridge.

Simon Jarvis, principal of the sixth-form college in Farnborough, Hampshire, which has 3,600 students, said: “I think it is a very gloomy picture.

“There are 93 sixth-form colleges in England, of which a significant number are already in financial difficulties.”

His college is facing a budget cut of £1.4m – about 12 per cent. “We can already see the effects, and in areas where there is only one teacher, they cannot be replaced when they leave,” he said.  The college is now offering 48 subjects at A-level compared to 60 previously. Italian, archaeology, leisure and tourism and design and technology are among those axed.

George Osborne has announced that £3bn of savings will be found by Whitehall in the current financial year (PA)

“We have managed to avoid compulsory redundancies, but that may not be possible over the next two or three years,” he added.

Anton McGrath, principal of Greenhead Sixth Form College in Huddersfield – which sends some 30-35 students to Oxford and Cambridge a year – said: “We’ve made decisions not to run some courses. Also, from 2016-17 [when protected funding expires], we’ve decided that the majority of our students will just take three A-levels. At present they take four. We feel sixth-form colleges are underfunded for the job they do.”

The Sixth Form Colleges Association, which represents all 93 colleges, educating 30,000 students – warned: “Some sixth-form colleges will have lost a third of their funding in real terms between 2011 and 2016.”

The association added that 68 per cent have had to drop courses: 38 per cent in modern foreign languages and 22 per cent in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – courses, which are considered vital to the future of the economy. Furthermore, 19 out of 20 had reduced staffing.

The association is due to have emergency debate on the funding situation at its conference this week.

It is urging the Government to back key recommendations, such as maintaining sixth-form funding at its present level. A spokesperson said: “A further cut to 16-to-19 education in this Parliament will seriously damage the life chances of many young people.”

The association is urging ministers to drop their insistence that new provision to meet growing pupil numbers must come from academies and free schools. It points out that only just over half of schools, academies and free schools have more than 200 students, the number considered necessary to afford enough staff to provide a broad choice of subject options.

The average number of students in sixth-form colleges, by contrast, is 1,700.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Thousands more students are staying in education or training after the age of 16, giving them the skills and experience they need to thrive in modern Britain.

“It is for schools to set their own budgets, taking into account our national funding formula, which ensures pupils on the same courses are funded equally, no matter where they study.”

The base rate of funding for 16- to 19-year olds in the academic year 2015/16 will continue at the same level as in the academic year 2014/15: £4,000 for full-time 16- and 17-year olds, and £3,300 for full-time 18 year olds.