Despite Government promises to tackle funding inequalities in 16-19 education, the gap between sixth-form colleges and schools is wider than ever, new research suggests.
The Department for Education has pledged to equalise funding rates for colleges and schools with sixth-forms by 2015, but new figures from the Sixth Form Colleges Forum (SFCF) suggest a gulf between the secondary and sixth-form sectors is opening up.
A 19 per cent increase in per-student funding in sixth-form colleges over the past six years - from #163;4,150 to #163;4,921 per year - has been outstripped by a 25 per cent rise in secondary schools, where the average annual funding for each pupil now stands at #163;5,310.
And new figures seen by the SFCF reveal the gap in per-student funding between the sectors will reach 9.8 per cent in 201112 - more than four times the 2.4 per cent difference which existed in 20045.
SFCF chief executive David Igoe said the scenario was "horrifying and outrageous", and warned some colleges could be forced to close without a radical reform of the funding structure.
He told the forum's annual conference that, under the age-weighted pupil units funding structure which was previously in place, sixth-form colleges would have now been receiving an extra 29 per cent funding per student, equating to an additional #163;1,438.
He added that the current system was "putting extensive stress on colleges, and we are getting close to a tipping point at which colleges are going to find it difficult to continue as a going concern".
The gap between per-pupil funding received by schools and sixth-form colleges almost quadrupled from #163;100 to #163;389 between 20045 and 2001011, according to the data collated by the SFCF.
Mr Igoe conceded that schools would be unhappy if funding was to be redirected away from them towards sixth-form colleges, but told The TES: "We need a way of approaching funding, which is fair across the whole piece."
Ian MacNaughton, principal of the Sixth Form College, Colchester in Essex, said: "The issue is the gap between schools for 11 to 18-year-olds, and sixth-form colleges for 16 to 19-year-olds.
"It must be something that has emerged from unintended actions. It is not only unfair, it is illogical.
"It is the unfortunate consequence of a lack of integration and a lack of joined up organisational arrangements."
A DfE spokesman said: "We have been clear that we will end the vast disparity between funding for sixth-form colleges and other schools with sixth forms.
"It is not right that they get #163;280 per pupil on average less - meaning a difference of over half a million pounds for a medium-to-large college.
"There are, of course, significant differences in the scope and delivery of pre- and post-16 education - so we are looking carefully at the analysis the forum has done. We are happy to discuss it with them in detail over the coming weeks."
Sixth-form colleges are slashing teachers' jobs in order to balance the books, according to a SFCF survey.
The current average teaching staff in a sixth-form college is 104.1 full-time posts, but principals told the SFCF they were looking to reduce this by an average of 5.8 full-time posts - a 7.6 per cent drop.
The average class size will also increase by 10 per cent to 17.3 students. Another SFCF survey carried out in April revealed some colleges were opening for teaching five evenings a week to accommodate students.