The true funding gap between colleges and schools is up to twice the size of previous estimates, according to a new report.
Colleges have up to a fifth less money to educate 16- to 18-year-olds than schools receive, according to a finance paper to be presented at next week's Sixth Form Colleges' Forum (SFCF) conference, jointly hosted by the Association of Colleges (AoC), in Cambridge.
For the typical sixth form college this equates to about Pounds 1 million a year less than it would receive if it were a school, the paper says.
Although the forum's report relates specifically to sixth form colleges, both the forum and the AoC say the funding gap applies equally to general further education colleges, which educate more 16- to 18-year-olds than sixth form colleges and schools put together.
The paper says: "Given the undisputed quality of sixth form colleges, this is neither fair, equitable, nor in young people's interests. We believe it is the duty of government and the funding agencies, both current and planned, to address this issue urgently."
David Igoe, executive chairman of the forum, said: "Despite articulating this problem for many years, we appear not to have had much, if any, progress. We are not saying we want the same funding as schools, since we are more cost effective, but there should be some move towards the middle."
The AoC said that colleges, including sixth form institutions, educate about six times more 16- to 18-year-olds than schools.
Julian Gravatt, the association's director of funding and development, said: "Despite this, schools clearly have far more money, and many use this to keep class sizes small. But there are plenty of school sixth forms with fewer than 150 pupils. So this funding is subsidising uneconomic provision and duplication on an absurd scale."
Eddie Playfair, principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) in east London, said: "It is galling that a student who has chosen to study in a sixth form college should attract 20 per cent less funding than one who is on exactly the same programme in a school sixth form - and may well be studying in uneconomic groups."
Ruth Kelly, the former education secretary, told principals in 2005 that the intention was to cut the funding gap from 13 per cent to 5 per cent by 2008. According to the official method of calculating the gap, it is around 6 per cent today. However, a report for the Learning and Skills Council last year by KPMG, consultants, put the gap at up to 10 per cent, after factoring in the money given to schools - but not colleges - for teachers' pay. Ms Kelly's target failed to take this differential into account.
The SFCF finance paper has included further costs incurred by colleges but not schools, such as interest repayments on capital loans, to arrive at what it calls the "true" funding gap of around 20 per cent.
A rounder education, page 4
Editorial, page 6.