Sixth form colleges are developing a baccalaureate designed to differentiate the educational experience they offer from that provided by schools and general further education colleges.
Despite its name, the Sixth Form Bac would not be a qualification in its own right but effectively a quality mark for the type of high-achieving and rounded education that sixth form colleges market.
The SFBac would require students to take courses and activities in addition to traditional exams, such as A-levels. These could range from study skills to community involvement and citizenship activities, which might include work experience, playing sport or being involved in drama productions.
While the bac is designed to appeal to students and parents, one of its main target markets is higher education, where admissions staff have reported difficulties in differentiating between straight-A applicants.
It is timed to take advantage of the new legal status to be conferred on sixth form colleges if the Apprenticeships, Children, Skills and Learning Bill receives royal assent as expected in the autumn. In law, sixth form colleges are currently part of the further education sector, but the bill proposes a sixth form category separate from both FE colleges and schools.
The SFBac - to be summarised in the slogan "subjects, skills, values, breadth" - will be launched at the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum (SFCF) conference next week. A pilot of the award is due to begin in September, involving up to 10 colleges.
David Adelman, principal of Godalming College in Surrey and joint author of the proposals, said the SFBac would act as a counterweight to the test- based approach of mainstream qualifications.
"In a way, the SFBac will offer a kind of grassroots answer to the question: `What counts as an educated 19-year-old in this day and age?'" he said. "It will be a quality mark to say that our students have not just done the subject-based qualifications but also the activities that give them a much broader learning experience."
Mr Adelman said the forum and London University's Institute of Education, which is supporting the pilot, would be seeking the views of universities.
Meanwhile, a major report, also to be launched at the conference, details the funding gap between schools and sixth form colleges. The SFCF paper places the argument for improved funding in the context of the pending machinery of government changes. The changes mean that responsibility for commissioning and funding 16-18 education, which comprises 95 per cent of sixth form college funding, shifts from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities from April next year.
"Sixth form colleges will be more closely aligned to school sixth form arrangements and to the funding streams currently going into schools," the paper says.
"A major focus for the forum, therefore, will be to articulate and expose the real extent of the funding gap which exists between schools and sixth form colleges, and work towards reducing and eventually removing that gap."
The paper accepts that the funding gap in 2008-09 identified by consultants KPMG was 5.6 per cent. This includes the 3 per cent difference in the national funding rate for schools and sixth form colleges, which means that in 2008-09 schools were given Pounds 2,945 for each student while colleges received Pounds 2,860.
However, the SFCF argues that the funding gap between sixth form colleges and schools could be as high as 20 per cent, meaning some colleges are Pounds 1.5 million worse off than schools doing the same work.
This figure builds on the work done by KPMG for the LSC. The consultants conceded that, taking into account quantifiable factors such as the teachers' pay grant received by schools but not colleges, the gap is closer to 10 per cent. The forum argues that the gap rises to 20 per cent if other unquantified factors, such as the interest repayments made by colleges on capital building loans, are taken into account.