Dirty tricks fuel fight for students

Bitter rivalry is building between schools and colleges in the battle for sixth-form students and college advisers have called on the Government to stop the "cancer" they say it has created by forcing them to compete. A student is now worth £2,000 to a college and £2,300 to a school, because funding is driven by recruitment. With 25 new school sixth forms approved in the past year alone, competition is increasingly intense.

A survey of 84 colleges in the United Kingdom by the South-east Advisory Council for Further Education reveals a growing range of dirty tricks by schools hoping to keep pupils.

Some have asked them to sign "contracts" committing themselves to returning to school, while others have refused to disseminate information on college courses - something they are obliged by law to do. Others have told those thinking of going to college that they could have to pay for transport or books, or that school courses may have to close if they leave. Meanwhile, colleges have adopted aggressive marketing strategies. They are advertising on local radio, on buses and even, in one case, on television. One offered two meals for the price of one at Pizza Hut.

Almost a third of the UK's further education colleges responded to the survey, which asked about relationships withschools. Nearly three out of ten said they were "variable", "distant" or "non-existent". Forty per cent of colleges claimed their prospectuses and examination results were not getting through to school pupils.

"For the Government the challenge is to find a way to stop the cancer which it has created through the very organisms which it has devised," the report says.

Laurie South, the advisory council's chief executive, said he was not against competition but felt it had gone too far. Colleges were being forced to divert funds to advertising which could be spent on students, while schools had a captive audience.

Education, page 27

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