A freeze in funding for post-16 students means schools and colleges will have to educate more learners for less cash next year, it was claimed this week.
One headteacher said he was facing a shortfall of pound;100,000 on his sixth-form budget because extra students will not be funded. The situation is even worse for further education colleges, which claim their funding has been frozen for the past two years.
fforwm, the Welsh colleges' association, said nine of its 23 members were already educating between 40 and 100 "unfunded" students each. Using its rough average of pound;2,797 per full-time FE student, that adds up to shortfalls of between pound;111,880 and pound;279,700.
But an Assembly government spokeswoman said funding agency ELWa had increased the sixth-form budget awarded to local education authorities by 4.1 per cent (from pound;104.665 million to pound;108.921m). All LEAs have received a 2.17 per cent increase for inflation, and nine have received extra funding to help with bringing school and FE college funding levels in line.
"Since 2001, the FE budget allocated by ELWa has increased by some 21 per cent (pound;42m)," she added.
ELWa has told education authorities they will get the same amount of cash for sixth-formers as last year plus 2.17 per cent for inflation - assuming numbers have not fallen.
Four authorities - Denbighshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Powys and Swansea - have seen their funding cut on a per-student basis because rolls are down.
But other council areas where sixth-form numbers have increased, such as Gwynedd, will, it is claimed, have to fund the extra students on last year's budget plus inflation - effectively a reduction in per-pupil funding.
An ELWa spokesperson said the allocations to LEAs were in line with its previous statements.
Elizabeth Raikes, ELWa's chief executive, and chair Sheila Drury have previously warned schools and colleges of the need to work together more efficiently because resources are "finite".
But Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friars, Bangor, said: "We have gone up from 164 to 200 sixth-formers. The increase in pupil numbers should have generated another pound;100,000 but it has not.
"The only increase they are giving Gwynedd is 2.17 per cent inflation.
Teachers' pay is going up 2.95 per cent.
"We are going to get a less-than-inflation increase that takes no account of pupil numbers."
Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Secondary Heads Association Cymru, said:
"Inflation of 2.17 per cent is nowhere near the needs of schools to even stand still. For everyone, this is effectively a cut.
"If the Assembly government is serious about developing more opportunities for post-16 learners, then the only way to do that is to provide new funding for growth."
The Assembly spokeswoman said teachers' pay is covered by "substantial" increases in council funding.
Dr John Graystone, fforwm's chief executive, said the problems were worse in the FE sector. Budgets have been frozen for two years and there was a real-terms decrease in funding in the current academic year, he claimed.
"The Welsh Assembly government's drive to increase post-16 numbers comes at the very time when colleges are not being funded for growth."