Sixth-form students should be allowed to repeat part of the year to make up for lost learning, college leaders have said, as research showed three-quarters had fallen between one and four months behind during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Association of Colleges (AoC) warned that students aged 16 to 18 needed extra support to help them cope with the pandemic’s toll on their mental health. They said colleges were receiving increased reports of suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. One reported four suicide attempts by students during the last term.
A fully funded extra year would take the pressure off students who are anxious about their results and the jobs market, and enable them to continue studying A-levels and vocational qualifications for an additional six months to one year, according to proposals put forward by the AoC.
David Hughes, AoC chief executive, said the catchup year would help to address the pandemic’s “stark” impact on learning. “Flexible programmes of extended study, joined-up work opportunities and fair 16-19 funding with teaching hours that level the playing field for England’s young people are all vital to ensure nobody is left behind,” he said.
The report is based on a survey of 80 sixth-form and further education colleges, which showed that nearly three-quarters (71%) were providing catch-up tuition at a cost that exceeds the money available through the government’s catchup tuition fund. Students studying for practical courses such as construction, engineering and hair and beauty have been hit hardest by the lack of in-person teaching during lockdown, the report said.
To cover the additional costs of meeting students’ needs during and after the pandemic, the AoC is calling on the government to boost funding for colleges, including by raising the allocation for 18-year-olds to the same level as for 16- and 17-year olds – which would eliminate a 17.5% shortfall – as well as introducing a version of the pupil premium in schools for disadvantaged students aged 16 to 19.
The AoC also asked the government to increase funding to enable colleges to raise teaching hours from an average of 15 a week to match the levels found in other countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which reach 30 hours in some member states. The uplift would enable colleges to offer more extracurricular activities that disadvantaged students have missed out on during the pandemic, such as sports, volunteering, drama and music.