So the Learning and Skills Development Agency research, commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council, has at last seen the light of day. It is hidden behind a small bush on the LSDA website, but at least it is in the public domain. It claims school sixth-formers are better funded than college sixth-formers by a factor of 13.32 per cent and recommends convergence based on equal treatment for equal work.
Unfortunately, the researchers have excluded not only the very different treatments of funding for accommodation projects, but also the significant Standards Fund monies that 11-18 schools receive from the DfES. Julian Gravatt of the AOC concluded last autumn that colleges were consequently disadvantaged by an extra 7 per cent on average. Also, two further factors have been understated by the LSDA: the differences in attrition rates (loss of funding resulting from students leaving, reducing their programmes or failing to achieve) and the baseline funding most 11-18 schools receive.
Research I have undertaken with 14 colleges in the South-west indicates colleges lose between 6 and 14 per cent of their potential funding for sixth-form students because of these factors. The average annual loss is 10.5 per cent. This contrasts with the LSDA assumption that funding lost from attrition is 3.6 per cent (schools lose no more than 1 per cent of funding through attrition). Oddly, although the FE methodology is described in detail, no evidence is given for this figure of 3.6 per cent.
The second omission is the block grant given to secondary schools on top of pupil-weighted funding. Some authorities call this a fixed-costs subsidy or a small-school allowance. In Gloucestershire, this amounts to pound;172,000 for each secondary school in 2005-06.
The LSDA research falls far short of giving the full picture of the funding gap for colleges - generally 25 to 30 per cent, sometimes even higher.
Nigel P Robbins
Stroud Road, Cirencester