Sixth-form class sizes set to rise

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Headteachers are warning of a rise in sixth-form and college class sizes this autumn as record numbers of school leavers try to avoid the dole.

Thousands of extra 16-year-olds are expected to stay on in school or college after receiving their GCSE results today as they struggle to find jobs because of the recession.

Headteachers are voicing concerns over a government "September guarantee" that every 16-year-old that wants a place in school, college or training will get one, because they are concerned about a lack of funds. They say the numbers wanting to escape the dole will be even higher than ministers expect, despite a £200m windfall for sixth-form provision in the Budget this year.

Malcolm Trobe, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There is a concern as to whether there will be enough apprenticeships. Also, sixth-form and further education colleges have been asked to increase their numbers. Our strong belief is the numbers will be higher than the estimates and we're not going to turn them away. This will be felt in class sizes principally and put an additional strain on support services."

One college, Cirencester in Gloucestershire, has already said it may have to turn away late applicants. Nigel Robbins, its principal, said: "We could get in temporary classrooms but we need extra funding if the September guarantee is to mean anything."

Vernon Coaker, the Schools minister, said: "There are more options than ever for young people finishing their GCSEs and no one should think they have nowhere to go. We have backed our September guarantee commitment with an additional £655m being made available over the next two years to secure additional learning places."

Some 600,000 teenagers are due to receive GCSE results today. They are expected to show an increase in A* grades and the percentage of pupils getting A* to C grades. The percentage of girls getting A-grade passes is expected to nudge one in four for the first time, with two-thirds of youngsters getting top grade passes, again a record.

A teachers' leader warned yesterday that four out of every 10 pupils were being "failed" by the GCSE. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said youngsters were being taught "to pass tests rather than encouraged to learn skills". "Our exam system is particularly ill-suited to helping young people develop their creativity, initiative, team-working, problem-solving and reasoning skills which they need in work and to continue in higher education," she added.

Today's results are also expected to lift the threat of closure from around 200 schools threatened with the axe if they failed to get 30 per cent of their pupils to achieve five A* to C grade passes by 2010. When ministers first announced the closure threat two years ago, a total of 638 schools were on the list. Early indications show this has been reduced to 280 this year.