Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

KS4 Pupils Aren't Cash Cows, Sixth Forms Told

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

KS4 Pupils Aren't Cash Cows, Sixth Forms Told

Article excerpt

SFCA cautions against enrolling younger students to gain funding

Sixth-form colleges have been warned against enrolling students as young as 14 as a means of boosting their income, and have been told to "stick" to what they know.

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges' Association, told TES that a significant number of colleges were considering taking on pre-16 students to help ease their financial burdens.

Since September 2013 the government has allowed colleges to enrol younger students, who attract extra cash from the Education Funding Agency. Although several further education colleges have started to accept younger students, so far only two of England's 93 sixth-form colleges have done so in large numbers.

But more principals are beginning to consider the possibility as the sector faces serious pressures, including demographic changes, competition from school sixth forms and new 14-19 providers, and the so-called "learning tax", which prevents sixth-form colleges from claiming back VAT on purchases.

However, Mr Igoe warned against the idea. "What looks eminently sensible and coherent on paper can often mask significant practical difficulties," he told delegates at the Westminster Education Forum event in London last week. He said that key stage 4 required different approaches to teaching and support, and cautioned that some teachers would need significant retraining to work with younger pupils.

Other issues included younger students' personal development and behaviour, he said, as well as the need for new procedures to address safeguarding concerns.

Mr Igoe said that although entering the 14-16 market could help colleges to maintain funding levels and reduce the need for staff redundancies, there was very little "real appetite" for it. "It will be driven by economic imperatives rather than any conviction about the educational coherence or otherwise," he added.

"Sixth-form colleges have built their reputation around their specialism of delivering high-quality qualifications to 16- to 19-year-olds. They would be wise to stick to that knitting before finding a whole new thread to weave and master."

Mark Bramwell, associate director for sixth-form colleges at the Association of Colleges, said that some principals were giving "serious" consideration to the move, but added: "We are not recommending any particular pathway.

"We know the funding situation is not going to get any better, so it's right that colleges should be looking strategically at all the options."

Mr Bramwell said colleges should take into account a number of concerns around enrolling younger students. …

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