Sixth-form colleges are calling for the creation of their own "chartered status" to protect the sector's reputation for academic excellence. A consultation on plans for a chartered status for FE institutions came to an end last month and the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum (SFCF) believes its members require their own "Kitemark" to guard the college brand.
SFCF chief executive David Igoe told TES he had written to Matthew Hancock, the minister responsible for post-16 provision, asking for the status to be developed in parallel to the one planned for the FE sector, in order to raise colleges' profile.
In 2011, a National Audit Office report concluded that sixth-form colleges outperform school sixth forms despite receiving significantly less funding. Last August, academics at the University of Southampton found that a sixth-form college student was 7.2 per cent more likely to gain an A* or an A at A level than a teenager of similar ability and background studying at a school.
But despite sixth-form colleges' impressive pedigree, the SFCF has warned that its members are being increasingly marginalised by the Department for Education's strategic focus on the academies programme.
"We believe chartered sixth-form college status would be a real step forward for our members," Mr Igoe said.
Chartered status is also seen as a means of protecting the sixth-form college title against an increasing number of academies, which are erroneously calling their sixth forms "colleges", despite significant differences in terms of legal status and funding.
Last August, SFCF deputy chief executive James Kewin claimed "these new providers are hanging on to our coat-tails" by trading off the strong reputation of the forum's members.
As TES revealed in November, SFCF members are considering mass conversion to academy status in order to secure a more prominent role in the education system and a better funding deal. The funding gap between schools and colleges almost quadrupled to #163;389 per student between 2005 and 2011.
However, Mr Igoe said that there is still a possibility that one of colleges' major concerns - the discrepancy that means colleges have to pay VAT while their competitors in the school sector do not - could be resolved without the need for academy conversion. At present, an average-sized college faces an annual VAT bill of about #163;300,000. The SFCF is awaiting talks with recently appointed schools minister John Nash to discuss the matter further.
Having recently lobbied to create an all-party parliamentary group for sixth-form colleges in order to raise the sector's profile, the SFCF will next week also gain a new name. Its new title - the Sixth Form Colleges' Association - will be launched on Tuesday with a reception at the House of Commons.