Government study reveals minimum A-level class size

A-level classes need at least 11.7 pupils to make them financially viable, a study has found.

The research, carried out by the Isos Partnership on behalf of the Department for Education, also found there may be a case for more active national management of the A-level market – including a reduction in qualifications, in order to make sixth forms

The study looked at 24 A-level providers, including school sixth forms, sixth form colleges, FE colleges and one University Technical College.

It found the average minimum viable A-level class size across the sampled providers was 11.7 pupils, though this varied depending on the number of pupils taking the qualifications.

Action could be taken nationally to reduce the number of possible A-level qualifications

Schools and colleges which offered fewer A-level subject choices in relation to the number of pupils were “able to maintain bigger class sizes”, leading to a conclusion that the breadth of curriculum offer is a “key factor” in determining class size.

Around half of the schools taking part in the study also admitted they supplemented their post-16 funding from their pre-16 funding.

In order to reduce the cost impact of post-16 provision, the report suggests schools and colleges should develop a “ready-reckoner” to scrutinise A level costs and making decisions on the viability of classes.

The report also suggests the Department for Education “may wish to consider” whether there is a role for “more active management of the A-level market”, and suggests actions such as reducing the number of possible A-level qualifications and providing a “clearer indication of which A-levels are deemed to be of national importance”.

Although many schools were said to topping up their post-16 funding, schools said other benefits accrued to the school from offering A-levels, even where class sizes were small.

Having a wide range of subjects was important for retaining and attracting pupils, the report says. Cancelling small classes was also not deemed cost-effective in cases where the staff member affected by the cut could not be redeployed across the timetable.

The study identified a “reasonably strong negative relationship” between the per-pupil cost of A-level provision and average class size, but was inconclusive on the relationship between class sizes and pupil outcomes.

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