Schools `fool pupils into staying on'

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SCHOOLS ARE keeping information about their rivals secret from their pupils and bullying them into staying on in the sixth form, colleges claimed yesterday. Research from the Association of Colleges reveals the full extent of the intense competition for students that has developed between schools and sixth form and further education colleges.

Ten per cent of colleges claim that schools refuse to disclose the names and addresses of 16-year-olds and tell pupils that college courses are full when they are not. They also, it is claimed, hang on to clever pupils and encourage problem ones to apply to college, and refuse to publicise college open days, stock college information or invite college speakers into schools.

Forty-six colleges responded to the survey. Nearly all said they were in competition with schools in at least part of the area they served. Sixth form funding depends on the number of students recruited.

Colleges said pupils were sometimes advised that their local college had a drug problem or that the tutorial support was poor. Some were even refused references if they wanted to apply to college.

More than 90 per cent of colleges thought that schools' attitudes harmed pupils by restricting their choice and keeping them in schools that offered a limited range of subjects. Colleges also say they are picking up students who drop out of school because they have chosen the wrong course.

A spokesman for one college said: "College posters are being binned as soon as they are received and the college has now had to spend pounds 9,000 on a database of local 16 to 21-year-olds' addresses and a direct marketing campaign."

In one area, a college reported: "A small cohort is being split eight ways. As a result there is no modern language A-level provision available as there are insufficient numbers to form any groups."

Another said: "In one school pupils must fill in a form giving sixth form intentions. If they state anything other than the school sixth form, an interview with the head is triggered."

Competition between some schools and colleges is so fierce that one head told a college careers officer that if he came anywhere near the school he would call the police and have him escorted off the premises.

David Gibson, the association's chief executive, said: "Pupils and parents are having choices removed from them without knowing it. This appears most acute in schools with a small sixth form, where pupils will face a limited subject choice of variable quality, and can waste their time on inappropriate or unnecessary study if they stay at school.

"Colleges add just as much attainment to each student's starting point as do schools, yet they do so at up to 20 per cent less cost for an average three-A-level package, so the public are paying for this malpractice as well as the pupils."

He said the association supported government moves to equalise funding for schools and colleges. Ministers are consulting on a single funding system for post-16 education, and a Bill to establish a single funding body will be introduced to Parliament this autumn.

Guide to further education: see the Ucas supplement