Top Newham sixth form kicks pupils out half-way through A-levels


Another top London sixth form has been accused of “effectively excluding” pupils at the end of year 12 because they did not get high enough grades, even though the government recently blasted another school for doing the same thing.

Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre, led by former City lawyer Mouhssin Ismail (pictured), did not issue timetables for this term to 19 pupils following their AS results, and told some they could not retake year 12, according to evidence seen by Schools Week.

The school was widely praised on results day for achieving top grades despite its location in a deprived area of east London.

It boasted on its website and in press releases that 99 per cent of A-level grades were between A* and C at the college, but pupils have told Schools Week they could only continue into the second year of their A-levels if they received a C or above, an “expectation” outlined on the school’s website.

Schools Week understands that 214 timetables were sent out before exams, but only 195 were sent out afterwards, implying that at least 19 pupils were barred from continuing into year 13. At least some of these pupils were unable to continue due to missing the expected grades.

One pupil, who met Ismail after failing to get adequate grades in one subject, told Schools Week that he “kept emphasising I was being ‘allowed’ to continue into year 13, but only in two subjects”.

They continued: “No-one can take two subjects, because you can’t get into university like that. He’s effectively excluding us.”

The pupil has a medical condition which a consultant at a London hospital said, in an email to the school seen by Schools Week, “could affect [their] ability to revise and pass [their] exams”.

In another email, Ismail acknowledged the condition but continued to deny the pupil the chance to continue in the three subjects they needed for university.

He offered the pupil three subjects via email, but not in the key subject they needed for their chosen university course. When responding to Schools Week, Ismail said this was because the E grade was too low for the pupil to be accepted at university.

The school’s website claims that “consideration will be given to students in exceptional circumstances” if pupils don’t hit C grades.

This isn’t the first high-flying school caught preventing students from carrying on into year 13. St Olave’s Grammar School in south-east London hit the headlines after it told pupils to leave if they did not get at least three B grades at AS.

The government dragged St Olave’s over the coals, declaring the practice illegal and forcing it to U-turn and readmit the pupils it had dumped.

This apparently encouraged Bourne Grammar School in Lincolnshire to write to year 13 pupils it had ejected for similar reasons and invite them to re-enlist, for fear of legal action.

A second pupil at Newham Collegiate told Schools Week that the school had forbidden them from continuing with any subjects, despite achieving a C in one subject, and getting a U grade in only one other.

Both pupils asked to retake year 12, but were told they would have to reapply with applicants from other schools.

“I was completely in tears and my mum was very upset as well,” they said.

Nearby sixth forms have now taken the pupils in to restart year 12, but they will find themselves funded at a reduced rate next year, as 19-year-olds are apportioned less money.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the Newham Collegiate counted as a further education provider and that “clear guidance” states “that once a student is enrolled, the institution is expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the student can complete their programme” as a condition of funding.

However, Newham council, which currently oversees the college as part of its “adult education” services, said it will be opening as an academy “later this year”.

A spokesperson for the Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre said in a press release that the governing body would “continue to review the retention rate” at the sixth form.*

“The NCS has been recognised as an outstanding selective sixth form for students in Newham and east London who aspire to study at some of the most competitive universities in the UK and abroad,” they said.

“Many of these students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and they have enjoyed great success and exceptional results over the last four years. This year we have sent students to Oxford, Cambridge and MIT in the US, providing life-changing opportunities rarely afforded to those from their backgrounds.”

They added: “Every decision we take is always in the best interests of our students, and we want all our students to have the greatest chance of success.”

Meanwhile the requirement for three Cs was applied “with discretion” and some pupils continued into year 13 without those grades. Schools Week has asked on what grounds some pupils are allowed to continue into year 13 and is awaiting a response.

The spokesperson added: “We cannot comment on individual cases, but the governing board will continue to review the retention rate and ensure all our young people get the best education possible.”

Case study

“I should at least be allowed to carry on with three subjects”

“Being kicked out of college has left many students stranded, forcing them to have to retake the whole year at another sixth form or college, or desperately scavenging for year 13 places.

“I only got a U in one subject out of the four I took. This means that I should at least be allowed to carry on with three subjects. However, my college did not agree on this matter.

“Another horrendous option [the college] was offering to some students who got two grades at C or above was to continue only two subject courses and drop the remaining one.

“But this leaves students with only two A-levels, meaning that they will not be accepted into university.

“When we joined NCS, there was no formal discussion or assembly of such where any of the grade requirements were discussed.

“Some of us did find out from the year 13 students at the time about required grades to move on in NCS. The teachers informally told me, through conversation, that we need three Cs to carry on, but only about halfway to three quarters of the year through.

“By then it was too late to change schools.”

Case study

“Essentially the headteacher has made them leave”

A pupil who got two Cs, with other grades below that.

“Students who didn’t get a C have been given a timetable with only two subjects, but no one will take that because no one can get into university like that.

“So when they leave, it looks like it’s of their own volition.

“But essentially the headteacher has made them leave, without directly making them leave.

“They also don’t let you retake the year. Mr Ismail said there’s not space and if I want to reapply you have to go into the pool of 500 people who are also waiting.

“He just would not budge at all. He said you will not do that subject at this school regardless of what you say. We’ve got no space for you in year 12.

“My parent said ‘but he’s already a student here’ and he said ‘no, if he was to reapply we would have to reassess to see if he’s good enough for the school.’

“The school advertises the 99 percent A*-to-C but this is only after you take the best students in East London, kick 20 out at AS-level and focus only on the rest.”

Case study

“NCS was not the sixth form that I expected it to be”

A pupil who got a B and a C, with other grades below that.

“I’ve been the victim of the same situation at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre as some other students.

“It’s caused a big problem for me in terms of continuing my education as an A-level student. I am one of the few who was able to find a place at another sixth form.

“Unfortunately, NCS was not the sixth form that I expected it to be, and that I was told about by the headteacher.

“I felt as if the sixth form wasn’t really working with me to reach my full academic abilities, but was just threatening me with losing my placement in year 13 instead.”

Newham Collegiate’s ‘dubious’ legal status

Experts say Newham Collegiate Sixth-Form Centre still has “legally dubious” status both because it opened unlawfully, and because it counts neither as a further education college nor a school.

Schools Week reported in 2014 that Newham council cabinet members concluded the school was “likely to be unlawful” because it had been opened by the council itself without any legal basis.

After an investigation, the council announced it would be converting to an academy.

Three years on, the sixth-form centre is finally going to open as a 16-to-19 free school before January, to be sponsored as part of the City of London Academies Trust.

The council insists that the college has been operating lawfully in the interim, but independent education lawyers claim it has been on “dodgy legal grounds” since 2014.

The sixth form has also been criticised for claiming that Ofsted rated it ‘outstanding’, since its unusual legal status means it has never received an individual inspection report.

Russell Holland, a barrister in the education team at law firm Michelmores, pointed out that because it was neither an FE college nor a school, it occupied an unclear legal category.

“It must have the authority to enter pupils into exams and so on, so it will be like a school but not actually technically legally a school or a college,” he said. “By becoming an academy, they’re sorting out the legal mess they’re in.”

In fact, it doesn’t actually appear in the DfE’s online performance tables, which are typically used by the public to compare schools and colleges, and so its celebrated results cannot be verified.

It had been subcontracted to a charity, the Newham Foundation, under a “commercial, legal agreement” devised by the council. However, now it has been caught asking pupils to leave at the end of year 12, NCS appears to have broken a key condition of its funding as a further education “institution”, according to the Department for Education.

Further education funding agreements state that “once a student is enrolled, the institution is expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the student can complete their programme”.

However, the Department for Education refused to say whether it would take further steps against the college.

The sixth form centre claims on its website that this year’s results “validate the ‘outstanding’ judgment reached by a team of Ofsted inspectors who visited in 2016”, but it has never been individually inspected.

Instead, its services were “considered” as part of a wider inspection of the Newham Adult Learning Service, Ofsted told Schools Week. The DfE said NCS could therefore describe itself as ‘outstanding’ based on inclusion in this report.

Inspectors noted at the time that “almost all of the year 12 AS-level learners have progressed to their A-level programmes”.

Inspectors are meant to consider retention and exclusions data when doing full inspections on further education providers. It is not clear whether inspectors were aware that some pupils were not accepted into year 13.

The City of London Academies Trust confirmed that NCS would become a “legal school” under its sponsorship, but a spokesperson would not comment on whether its controversial demand for at least three Cs at AS-level would continue, passing the buck back to Newham council and the NCS’ board of governors.


*Responses from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre were added into this article after a press release was sent to Schools Week on the day of publication.

Schools Week had approached the sixth form for comment repeatedly in the two weeks before publishing but received no response.

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  1. Search the internet for ‘Mouhssin Ismail city lawyer’ and you’ll find numerous articles praising Ismail for leaving his highly-paid job to lead a sixth form college in a deprived borough which claimed 95% of its pupils went on to top unis.
    Now it appears the college has a dodgy legal status (surely a lawyer should have known that?) and is ejecting Y12 pupils who don’t get high enough grades in exams.
    The admission rules at the college say, ‘There is an expectation that students will achieve a minimum of 3 C grades in their AS exams to continue into Year 13. Consideration will be given to students in exceptional circumstances.’ But this isn’t acceptable. Any school or college which accepts pupils on a two year A level course has a moral duty to keep the pupils for the full duration – they have, after all, already been through a selection process to gain entry.

  2. Farha Memon

    I think it is an excellent school. My daughter did her GCSES from Woodford county which is a grammar school, she got excellent grades but felt the teaching standard had dropped and her aim was to go to a top university. My daughter did a research and found that NCS was the place to be if you wanted to go to a top university, she applied and got in, she had a long commute to get there every day but was well worth it. The teachers are the best mainly educated from Oxbridge, so one can expect the best. The best is what she definately got, thanks to Mr Ismail and the wonderful teachers who literally hold your hand and take you through the year 12/13 journey. My daughter got into UCL Medline all praise goes to Mr Ismail and the teachers. If children get inappropriate grades and asked to find another school I don’t think it’s innaproptate as they have to keep a certain criteria or why would able students want to go there.