Principals argue that they take on more students at risk of under-performing or dropping out than sixth forms.
But the Learning and Skills Council is hoping that a website being piloted will give colleges greater credit for the progress their students make. The learner achievement tracker, or LAT, works on a points system, accrediting a student with points for qualifications attained at the start of a course and comparing it with their points at the end. It is one of eight measures of performance introduced by the LSC in its New Measures of Success programme, launched last August.
Roger Marriott, the LSC's director of evaluation and strategic development, said that where colleges or training organisations recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds with low levels of attainment, they will be able to show progress in a way that was not possible before.
He also said the system will enable them to analyse their own performance more accurately, and will lead to a reduction in workload as other agencies, such as neighbouring sixth forms, can log on to the system without reference to the college: "LAT is a tool for analysing how successful teaching and learning has been, and for setting targets for each student. By looking at past performance, it is possible to assess the level the student can expect to reach. If the student is achieving below that, the teacher can put in support mechanisms.
"It helps the college, school, or work-based learning provider to identify good practice, so if there is high value added in a certain qualification it can be translate into other areas."