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To penalise or not to penalise

04 May 2016

Last week, the Skills Minister, Nick Boles MP, revealed that the Government is considering imposing financial penalties on school sixth forms that sign students up to A Levels that are “not appropriate” for them. This was an interesting proposal. The Minister is right to look at how the system works and to ensure that what is right for the student is at the heart of the decision. It seems to signify a change of tone in Government policy on this area. This follows an appearance before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education. He said that the rules for new academy sixth forms had been tightened up. This includes four tests for an academy wishing to add a sixth form: There should be 200 students or more More than 15 A Levels on offer Evidence that there is a local shortage of post-16 places Proposals are viable financially and so not involved cross-subsidies It could be argued that these changes are closing the door long after the horse has bolted, but it is something that needs to happen. The Association of Colleges has been asking for this over the last couple of years, so it’s good that we are being listened to. What is clear is that there needs to be a shift in mind set in schools and academies. There cannot be an assumption that A Levels are the best route for all. To make informed choices for the future, young people need high quality, impartial careers information about all post-16 education and training options, including apprenticeships and technical and professional education. The Government is already taking steps to achieve this. The announcement earlier this year that schools will be required by law to allow other providers to speak to students about the different routes available is a key step in the right direction for this. Colleges are keen to work together with their local schools to ensure that all young people are able to choose the right course for them which lead to the best possible skills and qualifications needed for a successful career. If the proposal to penalise schools becomes a definite decision it will take some years to take effect and is most likely to happen as part of a package of changes in response to Lord Sainsbury’s report on technical education routes, which is due out later in the Spring. Time will tell what the full implications of this will be. Chris Walden is the Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the Association of Colleges.