Sixth form colleges will be eligible for capital funding from the Building Schools for the Future programme, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has confirmed.
The move offers hope to the dozens of sixth form colleges left disappointed by their failure to secure money from the struggling further education capital programme administered by the Learning and Skills Council.
Just 13 further education colleges will get money to start building this year after the capital programme effectively ran out of money due to mismanagement by the LSC. Of the 13, just one, Leyton Sixth Form College, got any money. But while they are relieved to have a route out of the college capital programme, sixth form colleges fear they may find themselves well down the pecking order for a share of the schools cash.
There are also growing fears about the affordability of the BSF scheme, which could cost more than pound;50 billion by 2020, according to a National Audit Office report published earlier this year.
Mark Bramwell, chairman of the Sixth Form Colleges Forum that represents all 94 English sixth forms, said: "It is to be welcomed because of the disappointments over the college capital scheme, but we need to look at ways of making BSF work for our members.
"We have to find a way of ring-fencing some of the BSF money to meet the well-founded needs of sixth form colleges."
Mr Bramwell said there were waves of schools awaiting the green light for funding and he would be worried that sixth form colleges would merely join the queue. He also said that some local authorities might bid for and receive BSF funding on the basis of social deprivation. Mr Bramwell said this may not necessarily encompass sixth forms desperately in need of refurbishment or rebuilding.
A spokesperson for the DCSF said: "Subject to the passing of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning bill, funding for education up to the age of 18 will pass to local authorities.
"These 16 to 18 institutions will be eligible to be considered for capital funding through the DCSF's BSF programme. We are currently looking at the mechanisms for how this will work."
FE capital funding
A total of 15 sixth form colleges missed out on the final sum of FE capital funding this summer, but it is likely that others were also preparing bids before the money ran out. Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College had the closest miss, just 12 points short of 112 on the evaluation used to determine where the funding went.
Other colleges may question whether more of them should be able to access the schools' funding, since most of many general FE institutions' work is with 16 to 18-year-olds. A third of all A-levels are studied at colleges, for example.
The Association of Colleges assistant chief executive, Julian Gravatt, said: "Lots of questions remain. For example, in areas where BSF has already started is it too late for sixth form colleges to join the plan? How are their needs - and those of colleges with 16 to 18-year-olds - taken into account in future local authority plans?"