Encouraging small school and academy sixth forms to open has exacerbated non-progression between years 12 and 13
Last week’s story in Academies Week, “Free school ‘forced me out’ for not being top university ready”, featured case studies of students who were asked to leave the London Academy of Excellence (LAE) at the end of year 12 because they did not achieve three grade Cs in their AS-levels. It seems particularly unjust that the students were only made aware that this was the minimum grade requirement for entering year 13 after they had enrolled.
The fact that LAE is a highly selective institution has, until now, been largely overlooked by journalists seduced by the idea of an “Eton of the East End”. Prospective students are required to have at least five A or A* GCSEs and at least a grade B in GCSE maths and English language. We now also know that three grade Cs are required to enter year 13.
But the issue of selection in sixth-form education is not limited to LAE or free schools. Our members report that school and academy sixth forms are becoming increasingly selective, with many increasing the grade requirements for entry to both years 12 and 13.
While all sixth-form colleges have some form of entry criteria, this is typically five GCSEs at grades A-C and students usually have the chance to resit GCSEs in English and maths. They also offer a second chance to students that have needed one after their first year in a school or academy sixth form.
Recent parliamentary questions by Kelvin Hopkins, MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sixth-Form Colleges, have attempted to extract national data on rates of progression between years 12 and 13. The Department for Education claims that it does not hold data on the number of students that drop out of AS-level courses in-year. More information comparing rates of progression between AS and A2 level in schools, academies and sixth-form colleges has been promised for later this month.
The policy of encouraging small school and academy sixth forms to open has exacerbated non-progression between years 12 and 13. The typical sixth-form college curriculum is broad and typically contains more than 40 academic and vocational subjects. By contrast, ten of the A-levels offered at LAE are in “facilitating subjects”. Providers with a small, narrow curriculum leave their students with no option but to study elsewhere if they need to change course after their first year.
Sixth-form colleges should not be penalised for giving students a second chance
The government’s obsession with facilitating subjects limits the choice available to students, and is based on a remarkably narrow definition of success — progression to Russell Group universities. Each year, thousands of sixth-form college students successfully progress to other higher education institutions or directly to employment.
The recent reduction in funding for 18-year-olds now means that sixth-form colleges are financially penalised for stepping in to educate students that need an extra year to get their studies back on track. This will include many of the learners that have left a school or academy sixth form at the end of year 12.
To add insult to injury, sixth-form colleges already receive significantly less funding than school and academy sixth forms
to educate their students (as a report by London Economics highlighted earlier this year). It is important that these colleges are not also penalised by Ofsted and the new 16-19 accountability measures for doing the right thing – giving students a second chance and providing them with the sort of high quality education that they need to get on in life.
The lack of impartial information, advice and guidance, coupled with cuts to 16-19 funding, mean that many year 11 students are being advised to stay on in their school or academy sixth form, even when it is in their best interests to study elsewhere. Addressing these issues, and halting the proliferation of small sixth-form providers, would help to minimise the growing trend of non-progression at the end of year 12.
James Kewin is Deputy Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association