The fate of more than 40 sixth forms running illegally in competition with further education colleges in Kent will be decided following a Pounds 20, 000 consultation exercise announced this week.
Consultations, funded jointly by Kent and the Funding Agency for Schools centre on 44 non-selective schools which have been running sixth forms without Government permission for up to 30 years. Most concentrate on vocational courses or cater for GCSE retakes.
Kent has become the focal point of national unrest over the rise of new sixth forms under increasingly liberal Government education planning on policy. Not only colleges but many schools with large sixth forms argue that small sixth forms fail to give students adequate choice.
While colleges were under local education authority control, the question of competition did not arise. But since incorporation and pressures on colleges to drive down costs, principals have become increasingly worried about preferential funding making school sixth forms more attractive to parents.
The last attempt to define a viable sixth form was in the late 1970s when Her Majesty's Inspectorate suggested a figure of 150 students. That was before the rapid rise of new vocational qualifications, which many say has pushed the figure higher.
Although the sixth forms can provide progression to college courses, principals in the colleges affected say that some will be too small. Only eight out of 10 of the Kent schools have sixth form rolls of more than 100.
The consultations will consider applications by 28 local education authority and 14 grant-maintained schools to run one-year or two-year sixth forms.
Two schools have decided to close their sixth forms. And 10 schools which have submitted proposals to the Department for Education and Employment have had their applications put on hold while the review takes place.