Free school sixth-form offer £500 recruitment ‘incentive’ to pupils

High-achieving students in Doncaster are being offered £500 in a bid to lure them to a new free school sixth-form.

New College Pontefract applied to the Department for Education (DfE) last month to set up New College Doncaster, which would open in 2016.

The website for the new sixth-form advertises an ‘academic scholarship’ in which: “If you are predicted to achieve more than 5 A grades in your GCSEs, we will offer you the opportunity to receive £500 and a place in our Excellence Academy to support your post-16 education.”


The proposed sum of £500 has been described as an “incentive”, but the college were not able to say how much it would cost in total.

Richard Fletcher, vice principal at New College, told Schools Week all eligible students would be paid the £500, but “we wouldn’t know how many students would receive this until we opened.”

Professor of education and public policy at Durham University, Stephen Gorard, has expressed concern over the use of public money to incentivise enrolments in this way.

When asked about the scheme he said: “I have never heard of this before and I can’t see that it would be an ethical use of funding, given that it would cost money from the public purse that could have been spent on something else.”

He also raised concerns over the social repercussions this could have on pupils who eventually attend the institution.

“There is a correlation between attainment at 16 and family background and advantage and therefore this funding incentive doesn’t seem right to me.

“The concern I would have is that if the money incentive attracts the highest-attaining students in the area, then the mix of students at the school might end up with a more socially segregated system because of the association with the attainment of post-16 and social background.

“That would be a shame, because what you want is a mixture of attainment and a mixture of background in the institutions across the area.

“This makes a difference because it offers role models for others and tends to increase aspirations.”

New College Pontefract needed 1,000 signatures of support as part of their application, which Pauline Hagen, principal at New College Pontefract (pictured), said had been achieved.

The DfE are due to confirm next month whether or not they have reached the next stage in the free school application process.

Main pic: Pauline Hagen

Edition seven editorial

A proposed sixth-form free school advertising £500 incentives to new pupils is at best questionable, but at worst it’s an uncosted bribe.

The ‘academic scholarship’ is not a bursary for materials, travel or meals, typically given to pupils with parents on low incomes.

It is also not a financial incentive for high attendance levels, which some colleges have continued to offer following the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Put simply, it is lot of money for doing well in your GCSEs, elsewhere.

And New College Pontefract needed 1,000 signatures to proceed to the next stage in the free school proposal process.

So it seems likely the “opportunity to receive £500? helped drum-up support for signatures.

If it can be proven that the offer influenced the number of signatures then the government should consider taking a closer look.

Either way, schemes like this warrant scrutiny, whether or not it proves expensive for the college.

Nick Linford, editor


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  1. It’s a bribe. Not the first time a free school proposer has offered such an incentive. In March 2013, STEM academy offered the chance to win an iPad by answering Yes to the question whether STEM would be first choice. Baroness Walmsley, commenting on the Local Schools Network,wrote ‘these tactics are outrageous and amount to fraud’. (scroll down)

  2. paul hanks

    With 5A grade gcse the learner will do 4 A levels passing them at B or better and the bright kid premium will cover the cost. It is a bribe that is how they model the funding of it and it will generate a high APS per student
    The aim is to cream off the better students to generate a high profile and position themselves as a Waitrose of the sixth form (super) market

  3. Elise Godfrey

    Universities have been doing this for a long time so why should this be any different for college? Most uni’s offer far more money than the college may give to students and it gives young people more of an incentive to achieve high grades. Directly quoting the article shows that the man speaking, Stephen Gorard, believes that only the well off will benefit ‘a more socially segregated system because of the association with the attainment of post-16 and social background’. However, this is not inherently true, I achieved the criteria required for this money when I first joined college and my parents were 17 when I was born. This is not a badge of honour and my family are not bathing in gold, we are a normal family who could have felt a real benefit of this extra money to cover transport costs and other college related expenses.
    This is not aimed to segregate the college; nor is it being implemented to improve the colleges overall status in relation to grades or Offsted reports (with and outstanding Offsted evaluation and the college being above average nationally in most areas I’m sure they don’t especially need a ‘higher calibre’ student body). This college just wants to open doors and help high level students of all backgrounds to achieve their highest possible potential.

  4. paul hanks

    According to Doncaster Free Press the free school now claim this will be means tested and will only impact on about 10 learners.

    They seem to have changed their approach considerably since the article broke and they removed the web page for a time on Friday