Ministers are considering creating between 40 and 50 new regional offices to manage a radically revamped post-16 sector. Details of the offices - similar to the Area Manpower Boards of the 1980s - are expected to appear in the White Paper on post-16 education and training due on June 29.
They are likely to be staffed by many of the 10,000 ex-civil servants working for the training and enterprise councils as well as staff from the regional offices of the Further Education Funding Council.
It is understood that Labour has space in the Parliamentary timetable for an Education Bill in the autumn. Creating the sub-regional tier of post-16 offices would mark the beginning of a new empire for the Department for Education and Employment.
It would signal real problems for lifelong learning partnerships as it is understood the new regional offices would be responsible for both planning and budgets. Some 100 organisations have submitted applications for lifelong learning partnerships - consortia of colleges, leas, youth and careers services and employers - and it is unclear how they would fit alongside any new regional offices.
Ministers have received more than 250 responses to their post-16 review - with the bulk coming from further education and local government. There has been broad consensus on the need to create a single national funding and planning body.
Privately some ministers believed no changes to school sixth forms will get past the Prime Minister's office as they will be deemed an attack on the A-level gold standard.
The Local Government Association, furthermore, has been pressing hard for cash for school sixth forms and for adult and community education to continue to be allocated by a funding council.