What happens when A-level funding for languages falls?
The biggest casualties have been A levels in German, Spanish and French. Source: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

When the UK government slashed spending per student in school sixth forms by more than 20 percent between 2010-11 and 2017-18, it was the start of a string of changes to negatively impact students and staff.

Among the worst is the eradication of important subjects, new research by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) has found.

With spending for each student reduced to just £4,000, sixth forms and colleges in England report they are unable to retain “strategically important, but often less popular” subjects, The Guardian reports.

“In total, 51 percent of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures, with A levels in German, Spanish and French the main casualties,” said the report.

“Over a third of schools and colleges (38 percent) have dropped STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) courses.”

One principal of an FE college was quoted as saying:

“Curriculum considerations are driven by profitability (which cannot be right). We cannot offer any course that has fewer than 16 students and will cut further courses that do not generate a good level of contribution in the future.”

Over two-thirds of head teachers and college principals said they had moved from a four subject offer
as standard to a three subject offer. Four in five reported class sizes have increased, with nearly half (46 percent) saying they have reduced the delivery hours of individual courses.

The findings are based on an online survey conducted in January 2019 of state schools (school sixth forms, academy sixth forms and free school sixth forms) and colleges (FE colleges and sixth form colleges) in England.

Over one million students currently participate in post-16 education in the state sector, with 60 percent studying at college and 40 percent at school. The sector has been squeezed most by the UK government’s funding cuts and cost increases.

An Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report last year found that funding for sixth forms has fallen by more than a fifth in the past eight years, cut “much more sharply” than any other area of education. For Further Education (FE), the figure is eight percent, and from a lower base than sixth forms.

Subjects aren’t the only components getting axed. Student support services or extra-curricular activities at more than three quarters of schools and colleges (78 percent) have been reduced or removed. “Significant cuts” are being made to mental health support, employability skills and careers advice.

Bill Watkin, SFCA Chief Executive, said: “Today’s report makes it absolutely clear that the government must increase the funding rate for sixth form students in this year’s spending review.

“If we are to keep key subjects on the timetable, offer a wide range of extra-curricular experiences, and provide the essential support activities that our young people need and deserve, the government must raise the rate to at least £4,760 per student, per year.”

The current rate is “totally inadequate,” said Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. It is “restricting the options and support available to young people”, as well as obstructing social mobility.

The government says it is has protected the “base rate of funding” for 16- to 19-year-olds until 2020, but acknowledged that the finances for sixth form colleges are “challenging”. From 2020, another £500m will be provided every year to support the delivery of the new gold standard T-levels.

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