Sixth sense

03 July 2015

Leader logoAs timetables are tweaked in readiness for the new sixth-form provision in September, schools and colleges should ensure that their 16-19 study programmes will meet tight new financial and curriculum standards, says Kevin Gilmartin.

While schools and academies should have a good idea of projected sixth-form enrolments, option blocks and numbers of planned groups, there will be less certainty and more crystal-ball gazing in colleges as to how many students will actually enrol and what subjects they’ll want to do.

Into this scenario imagine the head posing the following question to Toni, the timetabler-come-miracle worker.

“Great effort, Toni. I particularly like the conditionally formatted, colour-coded cells this year but does it offer clear evidence of transformational step-change in our curriculum?”

The head reminds Toni that this formed the basis of the underlying key criticism from Ofsted back in its September review of the early implementation of 16-19 study programmes and not to heed it will have very serious consequences in terms of inspection judgements as many schools and post-16 institutions have found out this year.

In addition, not to heed the recently updated guidance from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) could have even more disastrous consequences …of the financial kind. So what makes up a high-quality study programme that ensures that the institution maximises income?

For most institutions with full-time students the magical minimum 540 planned hours is the starting point. Breaking them down into planned learning (qualification hours) and planned employment, enrichment and pastoral (EEP) (non-qualification hours) is the next step. Considering how this will be easily evidenced for each individual student is necessary for when the funding auditors come knocking.

Most colleges with their years of individualised learner record (ILR) experience and teams of data officers will be used to producing such detailed information. Most management information systems will pull a timetable off very easily but how will they cope with the EEP hours? You will need a supporting system – Excel spreadsheet or similar – that holds each individual student record and then you need to get those records signed off by the students.

The next step is the identification of the core aim to determine whether the programme is academic or vocational. Going back and changing the core aim is not allowed once the funding qualifying period (usually six weeks for full-time students) has passed.

Maths and English
Arguably, the most common reason recently for Ofsted downgrading schools and colleges is not only the quality of the maths and English but the low attendance rates on these programmes. It is being seen as an unofficial limiting judgement in inspection and for institutions with large numbers in this category, it is not enough just to plan these hours without having a clear intervention policy for non-attendance.

Don’t counts
We all know the benefits of the lunchtime revision classes or extra-curricular activities after school, as well as acknowledging the staff goodwill in these situations, but they fall into the ‘outside of the normal working day’ categories – so they will not be funded.

A final check that students are not doing retakes or resits should be undertaken as well unless there are ‘compelling’ reasons outside of the control of the institution. This usually means medical or domestic issues and evidence from an appropriate agency should ideally be attached to the student’s signed individual study programme record.

Time spent on work experience organised by a parent, the volunteering work not organised by the school or the part-time job found by the student themselves won’t count either as funded hours.

If you are sure that you have your financial bases covered then you can move on to the activities that define the spirit of the study programme – stretching activities that build teamwork, employability, leadership and problem-solving skills.

Despite the lack of funding, this will be judged in the new common inspection framework under the area of ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’. In readiness for this, do your study programmes include meaningful work experience for all students (ideally) and for vocational students (as a minimum)? Do they show the added-value non-qualification activities that support the student goals?

Do they provide the opportunity to gain informal certificates such as the Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) Award? Is information and guidance about relevant careers built into the study programme? As a holistic programme then does it answer the head’s initial question: “Is the study programme offering transformational change compared to what was on offer a year or so ago?”

Final check

As the meeting with Toni comes to a close, the head should perhaps offer some last advice: “Remember your alphabet… PQRST.”


Planned hours – organised by the institution in advance


Quality assured – somebody is evaluating what goes on in the provision and taking student feedback into account


Relevant to prior attainment – a higher level of study representing challenge and progression


Supervised – the student isn’t just left to get on with it without some form of monitoring or registration


Timetabled – it appears on an individual timetable/programme signed by the student with the total hours equalling more than 540 and available for auditors on request

As the academic year unfolds it should be enough that the ‘significant majority of students are attending the significant majority of their planned programme’. Enjoy the summer break and let’s hope the students turn up in September!

Kevin Gilmartin is ASCL Colleges Specialist