Headteacher warns sixth forms are ‘nigh on capacity’ after rise in A-level applications
PUBLISHED: 06:44 25 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:37 25 August 2020
Rising numbers of students studying A-levels - combined with the need for more classroom space to socially distance during Covid-19 - could put huge pressure on sixth forms, it has been warned.
More young people are expected to go onto further education this year after a higher percentage scored A and A*s in this year’s exams.
Copleston High School and Sixth Form principal Andy Green said A-level applications had already risen 100 on the previous year, even before the coronavirus crisis.
That could go up further following this year’s exam grades crisis - with Graham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union (NEU), saying schools across the county are seeing a 10% to 20% rise in applications since GCSE results day.
Mr White said the rise in applications should be welcomed, adding: “We have to make sure those places are available.
“I would hate to see a situation where students are very keen to do A-levels but colleges say ‘we don’t have the space for you’.”
However, education leaders say staffing is already at capacity and that “blended learning” - a mixture of online and physical classroom learning – may be the only way to meet extra demand.
George Chittock-Nash, vice-principal of One Sixth Form College in Ipswich - which expects to enrol 1,150 students this year, 50 more than last year - said it would continue with blended learning.
That will see students on more practical courses, like beauty therapy, spending the majority of their study time at college - but students of more traditional A-level subjects spending around a quarter of their time in college.
The rest of their learning will take place via programs like Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom.
“In general terms, the more practical your course is - the more time you will physically be at One,” she said.
“Although it is our intention to get all of our students back on site in the future, when it’s safe to do so, we have been able to develop some real quality remote learning programmes during lockdown and we are looking forward to continuing to deliver these dynamic online classes to our students.”
Mr Green, whose school moved into a multi-million pound new building during the summer, said: “We already had, prior to the pandemic, a lot more applications for our Sixth Form than last year.
“When you start bringing the need to social distance and minimise the number of people in classrooms it presents significant challenges
“If you’re going to take on more students and do it in a safe manner, you are going to have to have more space.
“Yes, we have got a new building which provides Copleston with increased capacity but we have an increasing role in the main school, increasing numbers in the sixth form and the need to implement measures that ensure the school is as Covid safe as possible.
“We are very well prepared but we are also realistic that the challenges facing all schools will also face Copleston
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“I can certainly see a future where sixth forms and universities are going to continue adopting a high quality blended approach to learning in order to provide the highest quality of education
“It will certainly be a challenge for all teaching at all times, for all students to be in physical spaces that also require attention to social distancing guidelines.”
Mr Green said he understood the government has made it clear that there should be no detriment to the quality of specialist learning time students have with teachers.
However, he said teachers will already be working at full capacity as they will be supervising break times to ensure social distancing, on top of teaching lessons.
He hopes the right balance of online and classroom learning can ensure students do not miss out.
Unity Schools Partnership, which runs sixth form provision at County Upper School, Felixstowe Academy, Haverhill Community Sixth Form and Thomas Gainsborough School, has also reported an increase in the number of expected A-level students.
However, chief executive Tim Coulson said the respective schools were not anticipating any problems.
Mr Coulson said: “We are pleased that more students have the necessary grades to apply for A-level courses. We expect to be able to accommodate all those that want to study at our sixth form colleges. Indeed, we would expand the number of places if needed.”
One solution that has been mooted is for schools to use nearby community centres for extra space.
However, Mr Green says it would logistically not be possible for teachers to be shuffling from lessons at Copleston to other locations.
Greater use of supply teachers has also been mooted, although Mr Green said it is “much more beneficial to have teachers they’re familiar with”.
Mr Green also said the advice teachers give students about which A-levels to take will be “more important than ever”.
While schools have worked hard to give accurate grades to GCSE students, they have missed out on three to four months of classroom learning.
That means some might need more help to catch up and be ready for A-levels in certain subjects.
Mrs Chittock Nash said of enrolments at One: “We are working through the enrolment process methodically, to ensure that all students who have met their entry requirements get placed on their first choice courses.
“We are working with all students who are interested in studying at One on an individual basis – and we are being as flexible and accommodating as much as we can.
“In terms of enrolment, I’d say, come and talk to us and we will look at your options.
“As a college we are used to helping individuals at sixth form. This is what we do, this is our area of expertise and our breadth of offer here means that we have a wide variety of options, to suit all learners. So get in touch with us and we will support you.”
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