ALL post-16 school and college funding must be controlled by one national body if the Government wants proper planning of further education and training, the Association of Colleges has warned.
That body should be the proposed Learning and Skills Council for England, says John Brennan, the association's director of development. It is a view which emerged strongly in college responses to the post-16 White Paper, Learning to Succeed.
Rational planning would be impossible since the council does not control a significant proportion of cash. Local education authorities are aware of this and there have been strong indications from within the Local Government Association that they would be prepared to relinquish some control.
"Schools with sixth forms will be driven by what they see as their own best interests in a competitive market place," said Dr Brennan. "They will not necessarily adhere to a local LSC plan, or to the expectations of a body which has no powers of control, nor any direct means to influence their behaviour."
Without some measure of control for the council, there could be no guarantee that local authorities would automatically meet its expectations over the contributions that schools should make to post-16 provision.
The series of leaks and announcements from Downing Street about a new breed of sixth-form college to rescue small, unviable or isolated school sixth forms have not always encouraged colleges. Would they be a part of the new sector or a new mechanism for local authorities to claw back post-16 education?
Local authorities will inevitably put first the needs of schools for which they are directly responsible.
"Unless a single agency controls all sixth-form funding, you cannot achieve any coherence in terms of planning or provision. Ministers have signalled that they want a level playing field on funding. And you cannot guarantee that in a system that mediates the flow of funds through local authorities because you do not know what the local authorities will do with it."
Schools fear that local authorities will top-slice the cash and take some away for their own purposes. Some authorities may top it up. But, either way, the outcome will be that schools and colleges will get different amounts.
"The only way you can move towards a genuinely coherent and fair system is by putting money for school sixth forms through the new Learning and Skills Council," says Dr Brennan. "Over time this will take funding in the direction of convergence."
The Government's consultation paper on sixth-form funding proposes that either local authorities continue to distribute funds to school sixth forms or that the money be channelled through the new council to the education authorities.
"A common funding level must be an objective for similar provision regardless of the provider," Dr Brennan says.