It has long been apparent that, after 16, the larger, more specialist providers tend to be not only cheaper but also more effective. One in three small sixth forms is not cost-effective according to the Office for Standards in Education. And a quarter have a "very restricted" curriculum.
Successive governments ducked this issue. Tampering with the ethos and character of prestigious 11-to-18 schools by removing their academic sixth forms was bound to provoke an outcry. Some local authorities bit the bullet, but strategic direction was virtually abandoned when colleges were made autonomous in 193.
Labour's new Learning and Skills Council now promises a return to 16-to-19 planning. The Government presumably hopes it will also insulate ministers from unpopular rationalisations. But the real test will be whether students benefit from greater efficiency and effectiveness, wider choice and more appropriate courses.
The proof of this quangocratic pudding is in the eating. But with attention increasingly focusing on a 14-to-19 curriculum and a bigger role for vocational learning in schools, it is hard to see how a planning and funding discontinuity at 16 makes much sense.