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Inconsistent data widens the gap

Jim Knight, the schools minister, recently said he expects the funding gap between schools and colleges to be reduced to about 5.6 per cent by the end of this academic year.

For various reasons, colleges are sceptical about this claim. One is that schools data on achievement and retention - which plays a key role in determining levels of funding post-16 - is incomplete and slanted towards level 3 performance. This means that the 16-19 funding gap between schools and colleges is wider than originally thought.

Schools are paid Pounds 2,945 per standard learner, while colleges receive only Pounds 2,860, a gap of 2.97 per cent. With the additional pension contributions paid to schools estimated at 2.64 per cent, this will result in the 5.6 per cent funding gap at the end of 2008-09. In addition, the funding total is determined by the "provider factor", a multiplier including area allowances, relative disadvantage and, most significantly, learner success rates, traditionally calculated for colleges on the basis of the percentage achievement of all those students who started on courses at levels 1, 2 or 3.

The data, obtained from the Learning and Skills Council, shows the 2006-07 achievement data it received from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to help calculate 16-19 funding only related to level 3 graded qualifications, as supplied to the department by the exam boards. Thus, schools' 16-19 funding was based almost exclusively on achievement at AS and A-level. Which significantly advantages schools.

Colleges that provide a broad range of qualifications at levels 1 to 3 are likely to record lower achievement rates than school sixth forms, particularly where the college is working with students who are the most difficult to engage in education and training.

LSC data indicates a further widening of the funding gap appears where schools do not cash in AS qualifications for students who progress to A2, thereby recording most of the cohort as two-year A-level students. This raises the achievement rate reported by the exam boards to the department, and thence to the LSC, increasing the proportion of funding going to schools.

If Reigate College's provider factor was based solely on level 3 graded qualifications, and AS-level qualifications were not cashed in for those students taking subjects at A2, then the college's 2006-07 funding would have increased by about 0.75 per cent - that is about Pounds 60,000.

It seems unlikely the bias towards schools at 16-19 will be removed for 2009-10. An LSC policy manager has told me the DCSF data for 2007-08 is of poor quality and the council is still working on how it will be used. It would appear that the demand-led funding model has not brought us any closer to an equitably funded post-16 sector.

Paul Rispoli, Principal, Reigate Sixth Form College, and Chair of S7 Consortium of Surrey Sixth Form Colleges.

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