Parents asked to pay for A-levels

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A sixth-form college in Cambridge is so short of funds that it has asked parents to help fund its pounds 100,000 exam fee bill.

The 1,600-pupil Long Road College says that Government cuts have forced it to make the appeal for contributions.

Most of the college's pupils take three A-levels at a cost of between pounds 28 for each ordinary A-level and pounds 50 or more for each modular A-level. About 100 also take GCSEs costing at least pounds 15 each and 200 do GNVQs, (advanced vocational qualifications) at more than pounds 80 each. So far parents have contributed varying amounts from pounds 5 to pounds 120.

Traditionally, neither schools nor sixth-form colleges have charged students exam fees but Long Road's funding has been cut by 28 per cent in the past three years as part of the squeeze on spending in further education and sixth-form colleges.

Madeleine Craft, the college's principal, said: "I am not at all happy. I feel parents are being asked unreasonably to cope with the reduced budget. We have asked people to give what they can. Some parents have not contributed anything and I quite understand that."

She said the college had made a number of efficiency gains. Staff had increased their working time by about 18 per cent - three and a half hours a week - and students were being taught in larger groups. "My fear is that we are now moving into a stage where we are not becoming more efficient but are making cuts."

The Government restricts the number of students in further education and sixth form colleges by the funds it allocates to them. This year Long Road has offered places to an extra 100 students who are not fully-funded by the Government. The decisions to appeal for exam fees was taken to help fund those students.

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "This is the first time I have heard of a sixth form college resorting to this expedient. It is symptomatic of the desperation of principals and heads looking for ways of reducing the enormous pressures on their budgets."

Until three years ago, sixth form colleges were funded through local education authorities. Now their funds are channelled through the Further Education Funding Council, a quango.

Ngaio Crequer, of the Association of Colleges, whose members include sixth form colleges said: "It is a policy we do not recommend though we do know that some colleges are facing great hardship."