Schools may be fined for A level drop-outs

Skills minister Nick Boles ruffled a few feathers this week when he floated the idea of fining schools whose pupils fail to complete A level courses.

Boles made the comments at a hearing of parliamentary sub-committee meeting on education, skills and the economy on Wednesday.

He was responding to a discussion of whether enough was being done to direct pupils to the right course at 16, amid a growing perception that vocational studies are being ignored in favour of academic courses that prove unsuitable. Currently the A level drop out rate sits at around one third.

“Currently there is no downside to people dropping out after a year,” Boles said. “That is not ideal because in truth the value of the programme is to complete the two years.” Following the comments the Dept of Education said it was  “looking to examine” how it could adjust the incentives to schools for students to complete a full academic course.


Carrot and stick needed

However, the comments were met with a mixed reaction from education providers. Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “It is difficult to give exactly the right advice to 16-year-olds. Most schools try to get it right, but if they get it wrong it is the other providers who have to step in and pick up the pieces, and often in more challenging circumstances.”

He recommended new structures to ensure that young people were not given inappropriate advice, but added: “My experience is that the carrot tends to work better than the stick. Talk of punishing is not helpful.”

Meanwhile, Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said,  “The minister is right to look at how the system can best ensure schools encourage their pupils to take the best decision for them rather than automatically enter the sixth form. This could be a combination of incentives and potential penalties.”