Colleges and training providers have seen their places for teenagers slashed by more than 50,000 after they failed to recruit in sufficient numbers this year, despite an increase in school sixth-form students.
The Department for Education gave reduced allocations to FE institutions for next year in its grant letter to the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) last week because it said they missed their targets by an average of nearly 6 per cent.
Both the DfE and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have pledged to launch investigations into why recruitment fell in FE while rising in school sixth-forms. The numbers in colleges and training providers dropped by 18,000 compared with 200910, while recruitment to schools outstripped predictions of growth by nearly 12,000.
A DfE spokeswoman said: "It is not clear why colleges have under-recruited compared to plan in 201011. Work is underway to investigate this. However, we had ambitious targets for recruitment in 201011 and it may be we over-estimated likely demand."
She said the Government was encouraging growth in places at school sixth- forms by constructing new ones. School allocations next year would be even higher "because we have to fund places in new school sixth-forms that are opening in 201112 and that cannot be based on 201011 recruitment levels".
AoC assistant chief executive Julian Gravatt said the shortfall comes after a decade of growth in 16-19 numbers and that the funding body may have been too optimistic when it set the allocations. He said the AoC intended to test the reasons why recruitment had fallen by surveying members.
Teenagers may have been influenced by the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, which is mostly claimed by students at colleges. And Mr Gravatt said the advice system for teenagers had been disrupted, with cuts to Connexions taking place before any replacement had been established.
Nick Linford, director of funding consultancy Lsect, said there had been predictions of a decline in post-16 numbers, but added there did not appear to be a corresponding growth in teenagers not in employment, education or training.
He said: "The Treasury have been saying for a number of years that there is a declining demographic, but the Department has been pushing back against that. We're now seeing those issues on the ground."
The lower recruitment means colleges have received about pound;211 million for students who did not attend this year, although in previous years they have taken on significant numbers of unfunded students.
Next year much of that money will still go to colleges despite reduced allocations, in the form of a fund for disadvantaged students. About pound;60 million remains unaccounted for, which the YPLA said would partly be used for a contingency fund.
Original headline: 50,000 places slashed as teen numbers slump