Ministers have failed to cut the funding gap between schools and colleges as promised because they did not take into account extra cash for teachers' pay.
The deadline to fulfil the pledge by Ruth Kelly, education secretary in 2005, to cut the gap to just 5 per cent has now passed - with experts hired by the Learning and Skills Council estimating it stands at more than 9 per cent.
And the situation will not improve over the next two years, with no extra money budgeted in the LSC's grant letter, published last week, to reduce the funding gap.
Ms Kelly told principals three years ago: "I am determined to tackle it as rapidly as we can." She announced measures to cut the gap from 13 per cent to 8 per cent in one year, and to reduce it to 5 per cent this year by bringing schools into line with college funding rules.
But a report by accountants KPMG said they should have been taking into account an additional 4 per cent gap created by the teachers' pay grant, received by schools to cover improved terms for staff but not by colleges.
Jim Knight, the schools minister, was accused by angry principals of "discriminating" against the poor and ethnic minority students who tended to be more likely to choose colleges over schools.
Mr Knight told the Association of Colleges conference last week: "We remain committed to removing the funding gap. It's been going down steadily over the period we have been in office. We completely agree that you cannot discriminate between young people according to their educational setting.
"But I have to be frank with you, we are not going to do it by levelling down the funding for sixth forms, we need to do it by levelling up the funding for colleges.
"While we are sustaining inflationary increases in all settings it becomes more difficult."
The difference in school and college funding rates has fallen by nearly eight percentage points since 2005 due to changes in funding methodology. But colleges had been sceptical of the claims three years ago that the gap would be reduced greatly, with seven out of 10 in a survey for FE Focus refusing to believe that enough cash would be found to close it.
The education secretary's promise at the time followed a protest at Westminster and the presentation of a 62,000-name petition calling for equal funding.
Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development for the AoC, said that despite the Government pleading poverty, it had fulfilled a pledge a year later by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, to improve schools funding for under-16s by about 10 per cent to bring it into line with the private sector.
Abolishing the college funding gap would cost a fraction of that, Mr Gravatt said. "They could have done it with the small change."
He said: "We have to give them credit for the fact that they have narrowed the gap. But it will make it more difficult on transferring payments to local government, and there is quite a lot of anger about it from colleges."
Leading article, page 4
Grant letter points
- Increase 16 to 18-year-olds in education by 37,000 to 1,484,000 or 84 per cent of the total by 2010.
- Create joint assessment system for FE and school sixth forms under the Framework for Excellence by 2009.
- Prepare for transferring legal responsibility for all 14 to 19 education to local authorities by 2010.
- Raise funding for adults to Pounds 3.3 billion for 2009-10, an increase of 4.2 per cent over this year's figure.
- Expand diploma funding from Pounds 39 million this year to Pounds 262 million in 2009-10.
- Continue to raise levels of income from individuals and employers to 47.5 per cent by 2010, with the aim of reaching 50 per cent.