Schools resorting to ‘dirty tricks’ in campaign for sixth-form students


Schools are binning brochures sent by post-16 institutions, refusing to allow students time off to attend open days at rival colleges, and offering incomplete careers advice in a bid to persuade students to stay on at the school's own sixth form.

According to a recent article in The Observer, secondary schools that cater for 11 to 18-year-olds are resorting to a number of underhand techniques to ensure they do not lose their students to competing colleges.

These ‘protective measures’ are detailed in a report from the Association of Colleges (AoC), which will be released next week. They include failing to hand out brochures sent by local colleges until after the deadline for applications to the school’s own sixth form, 'cherry-picking' less academic students for the colleges to talk to while fiercely guarding the more academic, and arranging school trips for pupils on the dates of other colleges' open days.

Some schools are offering incomplete or one-sided careers advice, falsely telling their students 'that the raising of the participation age means that you have to stay on at school’. 

Nearly three quarters of the colleges belonging to the AoC (74 per cent) believe this is because schools want to keep the more academic students to boost their performance in league tables, regardless of what's in the best interests of the pupils.

The AoC feels that the decision to cut funding to the Connexions career advice service for young people, as well as the decision to make secondary schools responsible for providing career advice and support, has given some schools the opportunity to exploit their students’ lack of knowledge. 

The report says: '[Pupils] stay on at school to do A levels because that is what they are told is their best option, but many drop out after their AS levels when it becomes clear to them – and often to the school – that they are not going to pass their exams.

‘What happens next is that they either end up not in employment, education or training or they find their way to a college where they are able to pursue a qualification that suits them, whether that be academic, vocational or a mixture of both. However, they could have gone straight to college if they'd been given information about the full range of options available.’

It adds: ‘Colleges still find it difficult to get schools to allow them access to all their pupils to tell them about their options. Schools often “cherry-pick” the students they will allow colleges to speak to – usually those considered 'less academic' – or do not allow pupils time away from school to attend open days.’

David Walrond, principal of Truro and Penwith College, spoke to The Observer about his concerns: ‘With schools, whether it is sometimes “can't do” because they were left with the duty to give advice and guidance without the means to do it, or whether it is “won't do” because small schools are engaging in protective behaviour, the outcome is the same.

‘But we notice that whereas 11-16 schools will invite us in, give out our prospectus, offer taster days and talk about apprenticeships and vocational qualifications, generally the 11-18 schools won't because it is not in their interests. They have a financial imperative to put more bums on seats.’

See here for the original article.

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