Sixth-form funding dip 'could stymie' talent, Gove warned
A funding dip for sixth-formers "could stymie" teachers' efforts to cultivate talent, post-16 education experts have warned the education secretary.
In a letter, associations representing schools and colleges have asked Michael Gove to redress a growing funding gap.
On average, sixth formers attract almost £1,000 less funding each year than younger pupils, says the group.
The government said it was spending £7.5bn on education and training for 16-19-year-olds this year.
The letter warns the disparity will cause "significant and adverse consequences for 16-19 education".
The government's next comprehensive spending review "should re-evaluate the resources needed for a good education for all 16-19 year olds in state education", it urges.
The group draws on Department for Education figures which show that in 2011-12 the median funding for each secondary pupil was £5,620 compared with £4,645 for each sixth former.
During the same year the average fee per university student was £8,414 according to an estimate from the Office for Fair Access (Offa) which monitors fairness in university admissions.
The group describes this as "a growing and unwelcome anomaly... threatening the economic benefits that good 16-19 education brings."
They add that there is no funding gap in the independent sector, where figures suggest that schools charge higher day fees for sixth formers than for under-16s.
A briefing paper attached to the letter suggests that a slide in 16-19 funding, which began three years ago, is due to worsen with a further fall of 3% next year and more cuts planned after 2015.
The group fears that average funding may drop to less than £4,400 per student.
Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: "The message is that we cannot deliver good quality 16-19 education on these levels of funding, both current and projected."
Mr Trobe said he feared in particular for some smaller school sixth forms which would be unable to make economies of scale.
He said that inadequate funding would mean that pupils would face less teaching in bigger classes and that some sixth forms might be forced to drop less popular subjects, such as languages.
An ASCL survey suggested that more than 80% of heads of further education colleges, sixth form colleges and schools with sixth forms believed they would have to reduce the choice of courses they offered while 83% said they believed this age group should attract more rather than less funding than younger pupils.
James Kewin of the Sixth Form Colleges Association told BBC News that his members would be particularly badly affected.
"We really get a double whammy. We are in the worst-funded part of the education world and sixth form colleges in particular suffer other educational inequalities. Unlike schools and academies, colleges are unable to claim back Value Added Tax and so have to pay it in full.
"Sixth form colleges are the highest performing and most efficient part of the post-16 educational establishment. We think that instead of penalising us the government should invest."
The letter was also signed by the Association of Colleges, the Independent Academies Association, the Principals Professional Council and the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said its spending was "giving young people the opportunity to continue their studies and go on to skilled employment or higher education".
She added: "We are also raising the age of compulsory participation in education to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. As the participation age increases, we are providing funding to ensure schools and colleges can offer places in education or training to all young people who want them.
"Work on the next spending review period is ongoing and no decisions have been taken."