Parents and headteachers are calling for separate inspections of school sixth forms to ensure more information on quality.
Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent- Teacher Associations, demanded a debate on the possibility of publishing separate inspectors' reports on what secondary schools offer 16 to 18-year- olds to help parents and students choose between school sixth forms, sixth- form colleges and further education colleges.
This follows an analysis of 35 Office for Standards in Education inspection reports which reveals that school sixth forms are subjected to an inspection procedure much milder than the Further Education Funding Council's examination of colleges.
The survey by the Sixth Form Colleges' Association says inspectors' comments on sixth-form quality of learning, teaching and results are limited to "a few phrases tacked on" to evaluation of quality further down the school. The reports do not always reveal the number of A-levels taught or the available combinations of subjects.
Mrs Morrissey was backed by John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, which represents a majority of sixth-form college heads. He pointed out that there is a precedent for separate inspection - inspectors were sent into some schools specifically to examine sixth-form provision before OFSTED was set up in 1993. However, Mr Sutton thought a separate system might prove too expensive.
The National Association of Head Teachers voiced concerns that secondary school inspection teams had not always included sixth-form specialists.
An OFSTED spokesman admitted sixth-form provision had "perhaps been insufficiently highlighted" in the original framework for inspection, and acknowledged some report comments "were not as full as they might have been".
But he denied claims that sixth-form comments were merely an "adjunct" to inspection reports, and said the new inspection guidance, published last month, mentioned sixth-form provision far more frequently. Ofsted did not have the same inspection remit as the FEFC because it was not a funding body, he added.
The calls for a debate will add fuel to the campaign by sixth-form colleges to secure "a level playing field" in both funding and inspection between themselves and schools.