Punish schools for A-level dropouts, says skills minister

Schools should be punished if they sign students up to inappropriate A-level courses that they later abandon, according to skills minister Nick Boles.

He made the comments in front of a parliamentary sub-committee on education, skills and the economy this morning.

Boles said that among the school decision-making and behaviour drivers of Ofsted and accountability, there is also an issue of funding.

He said it was concerning that schools are not penalised if a student fails to complete an A-level programme “which is not appropriate for them”.

“Currently there is no downside to people dropping out after a year and that is not ideal because in truth the value of the programme is to complete the whole two years,” Boles said.

“One of the things that we are going to look at is whether we can change that. The overall funding would still be there for completing the whole programme but we might be able to build in something.

“I’ve spoken with colleges about this, they certainly feel that could make a difference alongside the transparency of destinations.”

From this summer, school sixth forms will have their retention rates published in the performance tables.

Schools and colleges also receive lower funding for pupils who repeat an A-level year – with only 82.5 per cent of funding given for the third year of study.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told Schools Week the comments from Boles did not “respect the professionalism” of school leaders.

He said: “Schools know their students best – their capabilities, their aspirations and their long-term goals – and try to do the right thing for their education.

“The government should work with school leaders on post-16 reform, rather than resorting quickly to penalties.”


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  1. Jenny Lloyd

    Great dangers in bringing penalties into decisions about what courses post 16 students take. Some students’ opportunities will most certainly be limited under such a system. The government is being heavy handed, ill-advised and will end up restricting opportunities.

  2. Here are a few more suggestions for Mr Boles.

    How about fining schools when children do not do their homework.

    Maybe the Headteacher could have a pay cut for putting students in detention. Surely it is the school’s fault if students are naughty.

    How about a penalty for schools when a parent does not come to parents’ evening.

    We could punish schools financially if children catch flu. Obviously not enough hygiene being promoted.

    How about returning all the money a school received for a pupil if they end up in prison in the 10 years after leaving school.

    Maybe we could just take the headteacher outside and give them a damn good kicking. They are bound to have done something wrong at sometime!

  3. To be fair to Nick Boles (something I didn’t expect ever to say), I think he’s referring to poor quality careers education and guidance (CEG) in schools. When schools have sixth forms, more bums at desks means more funding. This results in 15 year-olds being encouraged to stay on at school post 16 rather than go elsewhere even if it might be in their best interests to go to, say, an FE college.
    That said, threatening schools with penalties is counterproductive – the pendulum could swing too far the other way with schools only accepting pupils into Year 12 who are likely to complete the A level route. Far better to improve the quality of CEG and have it inspected by Ofsted.
    Boles is also right that Years 12 and 13 should be regarded as a two-year upper secondary course. This would mean that schools who drop pupils after Year 12 because they didn’t do well in AS levels should be obliged to keep them. No more dumping of pupils at age 17 as the much-praised London Academy of Excellence.