The government has been warned that 6th forms with fewer than 200 students could become unviable in the next two or three years due to funding reforms.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said that if post-16 funding changes go ahead, colleges and schools will be forced to cut courses and increase class sizes.
Around half of the around 2,000 school 6th forms have rolls of up to 200, with 300 having 100 or fewer students. Many of these institutions serve rural communities.
The funding changes mean that from September, 6th form provision will be funded per student, instead of per qualification. There will be a basic level of funding per student, regardless of how many courses they are studying or their cost.
In a survey of ASCL’s post-16 members, 80 per cent report they will have to reduce the number of courses on offer next year because of the changes, while 23 per cent said there would be a significant reduction in activities such as sport, drama, music and debating.
At the same time, ASCL says that the cull of post-16 vocational qualifications from league tables will also hit provision. An ASCL statement said: “At the very least, 6th forms will have no choice but to drop courses which do not recruit large numbers of students, therefore greatly reducing student choice.
“Subjects that are not as popular, such as modern foreign languages, further maths and economics; or that are expensive to run such as art, technology and the sciences, could be hardest hit.”
ASCL’s colleges specialist Stephan Jungnitz said: “It is a fact that funding for 16 to 19 study will be significantly lower than that allocated for pre-16, and much lower than funding that succeeds it in higher education. The 16 to 19 funding dip is a growing and unwelcome anomaly.”
David Grigg, head of Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in County Durham, which has a 6th form of 300, added: “Sixth forms are facing real terms budget cuts which will lead to tough choices for school leaders and great uncertainty for students. These budget reductions will hit in smaller, rural schools which are already being put at risk by the imposed changes of funding pre-16. Effective, geographically necessary 6th forms are being put at risk of closure by these pressures.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said the current funding system has “acted as a perverse incentive for schools to enter students for easier qualifications”. She added: “Funding schools and colleges per student instead will free them up to deliver demanding and innovative courses which meet the individual needs of all young people.”