Funding crisis puts A-level music and languages in peril

15 August 2018

A-level music, French, and German are in danger of disappearing from state schools and colleges in England because of severe funding pressures, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warns today.

A survey of 420 school and college leaders, released on the eve of A-level results day, shows that 69% have had to cut back lesson time, staff or facilities in A-level subjects over the past two years. The most commonly cited subjects that have been cut were music (39%), French (32%), design and technology (31%), drama (28%) and German (26%). (See table 1 below for more information)

All these subjects have already seen significant declines in entries over the past five years. A-level German was sat by just 3,422 students in England last year, music by 5,610 and French by 8,539. A-level drama and design and technology were taken by 10,751 and 10,657 respectively in 2017.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Subjects like A-level music, French and German are hanging on by their fingertips in the state sector because schools and colleges cannot afford to run courses with relatively small numbers of students on current funding levels. Their erosion will mean we have fewer musicians and linguists in the future, and this will have a long-term impact on related industries and on the number of teachers we are able to train in these disciplines.

“The immediate solution is for the government to stop treating the 16-18 sector like the poor relation of education and improve the level of funding as a matter of urgency. In the longer term we need to boost these subjects at GCSE where they are also under pressure.”

Of those reporting A-level cut backs in the ASCL survey, 86% (251 respondents) said funding pressures were responsible. (See table 2 below for more information)

In addition, the government’s decision to ‘decouple’ AS levels so that they no longer count towards A levels has had an impact with many schools and colleges now focusing on three A-levels at the outset of sixth form rather than four options. This was cited as a reason for the cut backs by 54% of respondents.

The 16-18 sector has been particularly badly hit by government spending decisions. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that there is a 15-20% real-terms fall in funding on school sixth forms and further education between 2009/10 and 2019/20. It says spending per pupil on education for 16-18 year olds in 2019/20 is likely to be around the same level in real-terms as it was 30 years ago. (Source: Public Spending on Children: 2000 to 2020 page 27-28)

The funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds is £4,000 per student compared to a minimum of £4,600 for secondary-age pupils in 2018/19 and £4,800 in 2019/20, and up to £9,250 per student in universities.

Twenty-eight respondents to the ASCL survey reported that their sixth form was considering closure, with most saying this was because of the difficulty in sustaining student numbers on the current funding level.

The ASCL survey was conducted in July 2018 among state-sector school and college leaders in England. Most respondents were from academies (68%), with the remainder from providers including maintained schools, voluntary-aided/controlled schools, sixth form colleges and FE colleges. Of the respondents 34% were headteachers or principals, 31% deputy heads/ vice principals, and 35% assistant heads/assistant principals, or heads of department.

One school leader who responded to the ASCL survey said: “Funding pressures are relentless and have cut our syllabus to the bone. Education is being provided for pupils on the basis of whether it can be afforded not whether it is right for the child's needs.

Another said: “If a course is not financially viable it cannot run. The moral imperative to provide the right course for the right student is a fight that is being lost to a funding crisis.

Funding crisis A levels table 1

Funding crisis A levels table 2