Sixth form colleges are demanding an end to the so-called "learning tax" that is leaving them hundreds and thousands of pounds worse off than schools and academies in VAT costs.
The plea was made in the Sixth Form College Association's (SFCA) manifesto ahead of the 2015 general election.
The SFCA estimates that the VAT bill leaves the average college with £335,000 less to spend each year than school and academy sixth forms, which have the costs refunded by the government.
The group used its manifesto to call on all political parties to recognise the success of sixth form colleges and reverse “damaging” changes to funding and the curriculum that it claims could force some to close and others to offer an “impoverished curriculum”.
The 12 page document, published this week, contains seven recommendations for a “broad and balanced curriculum that is fairly and sufficiently funded.”
Chief among its list of priorities was the need for the government to address what it calls the "learning tax" but it also called the government to introduce a transparent and competitive process for establishing new institutions. At the moment it only supports the creation of new school, academy and free school sixth forms.
The decision to decouple AS and A-levels from September 2015 must also be reversed, the document adds, claiming it will inhibit the ability of sixth form colleges to support students to progress to higher education or employment.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, said: “Our manifesto shows that sixth form colleges are the most effective and efficient providers of sixth form education in the state sector.
“However, a series of damaging policy changes introduced in recent years will see some close and others forced to offer an impoverished curriculum.
“To ensure that sixth form colleges can continue to transform the life chances of young people, we are calling on all political parties to put students first by dropping the learning tax and adopting the recommendations in this manifesto.”
There are currently 93 sixth form colleges in England, which educate more than 158,000 students.
Earlier this year David Igoe, chief executive of the SFCA, told TES sixth-form colleges in England were being left to “wither on the vine” by the government and could soon be “consigned to history” because of the overwhelming financial pressures.
Some 32 have been forced to close in the past 20 years, most of which were small institutions that folded under financial pressure. Only three new colleges opened in the same period.
Mr Igoe told TES that about 30 colleges could find themselves with budget deficits within the next two years.
Sixth-form colleges warn of redundancies as A-levels are axed – October 2014
Funding cuts force sixth form colleges to axe staff and courses, says report – June 2014