A sixth-form college principal believes colleges receive 41 per cent less cash than school sixth forms.
The claim, cited in the recent Leicester University report on sixth-form colleges, may be an over-estimate, but it is generally accepted that colleges are not getting equal treatment. They also pay their teachers less and frequently demand more contact hours from them. Many colleges say they are losing teachers to schools.
"The fundamental problem is that schools are still getting more money," one principal told researchers. "They are guaranteed protection of their funding for the next two years, so it's not a level playing field. You do wonder sometimes whether there is an attempt to force sixth-form colleges out of the market."
The pressure, to which colleges have responded, is to teach more students, more cheaply. Colleges are tailoring their courses to the market-place, eliminating courses which do not attract enough students. They are teaching bigger groups, admitting marginal students to boost numbers, putting pressure on students to take four AS-levels in order to increase finding units, and cutting corners. But they are not following FE colleges down the road of using more part-time and agency staff.
One teacher saw the funding as "designed to screw us to the floor. I'm doing three jobs for the price of one. I'm practically a full-time teacher; I have pastoral responsibility for 10 teachers and 200-plus students; and I am doing an important cross-college job".
Students, the teacher says, "are aware of big classes. They ask 'how come there are 20 of us in a room designed for 15?' And maybe they are aware that you don't set homework as often as at the feeder school because the teacher can't cope with the marking. Maybe they are aware of us being ratty and stressed."
Money pressures have led some colleges to seek financial contributions from parents.