A-level choices narrowed by funding squeeze, SFCA study suggests

The Sixth Form Colleges Association's (SFCA) annual survey has suggested that two thirds of colleges have been forced to drop courses due to funding pressures.

The SFCA sent its annual questionnaire to all 90 sixth form colleges in England in September, and 80 responded. It indicated that 58 per cent of colleges have also reduced or removed extra-curricular activities such as music, drama and sport.

Currently, figures show there are over 160,000 young people aged 16-18 currently enrolled at a sixth form college and the sector accounts for 20 per cent of the A-levels taken in England each year.

However, findings from the SFCA’s survey showed: 39 per cent of colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages, with A-levels in German, French and Italian being the main casualties; 84 per cent of colleges are teaching students in larger class sizes; 64 per cent of sixth form colleges say the amount of funding they will receive next year will not be sufficient to offer the support needed for disadvantaged students; and 90 per cent of colleges are either extremely concerned or concerned about the financial health of their institution.

The report said: “This year's funding impact survey suggests these two increases [pensions and national insurance] will cost the average sixth form college an additional £189,932 per annum.”

It also highlighted that the absence of a VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges - which is available to school and academy sixth forms - leaves the average sixth form college with £385,914 less to spend on front-line education.

Bill Watkin, SFCA chief executive, commented: ”The message from the most effective and efficient providers of sixth form education is clear - more investment from government is essential if sixth form colleges are to continue providing young people with the high quality education they need to progress to higher education and employment.

"A review of sixth form funding is urgently required to ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high-quality curriculum.

"Failure to do this risks turning sixth form education into a narrow and part-time experience. That would be bad for students, bad for society and bad for the economy".

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Every young person should have access to an excellent education and we have protected the base rate of funding for all post-16 students until 2020 to ensure that happens.

"We've also ended the unfair discrimination between colleges and school sixth forms and we now ensure funding is based on student numbers rather than discriminating between qualifications.

"On top of this we are providing more than half a billion pounds this year alone to help post-16 institutions support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or with low prior attainment."

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