MANY sixth-forms will be forced to axe courses and some could be at risk of closure as a result of government funding reforms, school leaders have warned.
Expensive courses, such as art and the sciences, or those that are less popular with students, like foreign languages and further maths, could be the hardest hit, according to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
It raised concerns that a new funding system for post-16 education will reduce choice for students and may put the future of some smaller sixth-forms in jeopardy.
Under the changes, schools and colleges will now receive money per student, rather than per qualification.
Overall funding is also gradually being brought down so that schools, previously funded at a higher rate, will be funded at the same level as colleges.
Ministers insist that the current per-qualification funding system acts as a “perverse incentive” for schools to enter students for easier courses.
ASCL said that a survey of its members in school sixth-forms, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges found that around four-fifths (79 per cent) believe they will have to reduce the number of courses they offer next year.
Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they would have a significant reduction in activities such as sport, drama and music, and half said that an increase in class sizes would have a negative impact on students.
Around one in four said the funding cuts will jeopardise post-16 education in their school or college, while more than two-thirds suggested the reductions would make life more difficult.
ASCL deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “Our position has always been to have equity of funding between schools and colleges for students. But we were anticipating a levelling up, as opposed to a levelling down.”
The new base level of funding is “very low”, with a draft document suggesting it would ultimately go down to £3,900 per student. “This is putting a considerable pressure on schools and colleges,” Mr Trobe said.
Some schools believe they will lose around a third of a million pounds, he said.
“If you’re getting less money, you’re going to have to teach less. There’s less contact hours because you can’t afford to put teachers in front of your people. You’re going to have to try then to increase group sizes where you can do, but of course that’s why we’re saying that schools with 200 or below are particularly affected because they can’t put large classes on.”
About half of the estimated 2,000 school sixth-forms have up to 200 students, and around 300 have 100 or fewer pupils, ASCL said.
It is these sixth-forms that could be most at risk in the next two to three years.
ASCL president Mike Griffiths said he is aware of sixth-forms facing severe reductions, including one college with a sixth-form that was estimating a 33 per cent cut in funding between 2011 and 2014.
“That sort of level of funding cut is not something that can be managed by a few efficiency savings,” he said.
ASCL funding committee chair David Grigg said: “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 sixth-forms are being put at risk of closure by these pressures.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have been clear on the need to reform the 16-19 education system so that every young person is able to undertake high-quality study which will lead to better education and employment opportunities.
“One of the principal barriers to this has been the current funding system, based on funding per qualification, which has acted as a perverse incentive for schools to enter students for easier qualifications.
“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.”