Schools and colleges are to get extra funding for students taking four or more A levels or larger technical qualifications, it was announced today.
But a condition that the funding will depend on the students achieving at least grade Bs, or equivalent, in all their subjects, has been criticised by sixth form colleges which said the move amounted to "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as some institutions would miss out.
The government said funding for larger programmes, including the TechBacc and International Baccalaureate, will be increased above basic rates to reflect their size, giving schools and colleges the chance to stretch their most able and talented students.
At the moment funding for large programmes is paid in addition to basic funding through formula protection funding (FPF), but this system - which does not depend on the grades students achieve - is set to end in 2016.
Today’s announcement means that from 2016 students studying four A levels and large TechBacc programmes will receive around £400 each year more than they currently do for their basic funding.
Those studying five or more A levels and the full International Baccalaureate will receive around £800 more.
Skills minister Nick Boles said funding should support young people to fulfil their potential.
“It is vital that schools and colleges are encouraged to offer their brightest students the broadest possible range of qualifications at age 16,” he said
“Alongside reforms to academic and technical qualifications, this announcement demonstrates our support for schools and colleges to stretch and challenge all their students.”
The government also announced funding for specialist land-based courses, such as agriculture, land-based engineering and environmental conservation, which also receive funding through FPF.
From 2016 it will increase the funding premium that recognises the extra cost of such provision delivered in a specialist setting (known as the programme weighting) from its current 60 per cent premium to 75 per cent.
It said this will ensure providers can continue to support students when the current protection ends in 2016, and “vital industries” such as agriculture continue to benefit from skilled young people in future.
But Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said the announcement would help less than 1 per cent of the thousands of sixth-formers studying A Levels or land-based courses.
“Colleges and schools will be starting to advise Year 11 students in September on their sixth form options for 2015 and have no firm information about their 2015-16 budgets and nothing at all about the second year,” he said.
“The Department for Education needs to act quickly to resolve the uncertainty about future funding and the formula protection grant.
“The announcement that the specialist programme weighting is rising to 75 per cent is really helpful for colleges running much-needed specialist land-based education, though it is a little unclear how DfE takes decisions like this and what its process is for revising funding weightings up or down.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said the plans would "only benefit a very small number of students in a very small number of sixth form colleges", and not until 2016.
“Describing this as a funding ‘pledge’ is misleading, there is no new money here, this is a redistribution of existing resources - the only winners will be highly selective sixth form providers, particularly grammar schools.
"To fund this initiative, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul - it would have been more equitable to increase the basic rate of funding to help students of all abilities get the support they need to progress to higher education or employment.
"The government should focus on addressing the fundamental under-investment in sixth form education, rather than introducing a measure that will only benefit a small number of high flying students,” he added.