Ministers should wipe out the funding inequities between school sixth forms and their poorer college counterparts, the Further Education Funding Council has advised.
The FEFC has joined the Association of Colleges and the Further Education Development Agency with a recommendation that the planned Pounds 5 billion education and training funding quango, the Learning and Skills Council, should take control of school funding as well as funding for colleges, work-based training and adult education.
The move would be a step towards establishing "a standard rate of funding across similar provision", said the FEFC.
It costs Pounds 7,380 to deliver three A levels in a school sixth form, compared with Pounds 6,250 in a general further education college and Pounds 5,910 in a sixth-form college. Schools have been funded at a higher level on the basis of student numbers. The FEFC methodology for colleges takes into account student retention and achievement. It allows for cost-weighting, in which laboratory-based subjects receive more money than classroom-based subjects.
Responding to a consultation paper on the future of school sixth-form funding, the FEFC made it clear that it wants to see a "national tariff" for sixth-form provision in schools and colleges. The FEFC cited a pilot study in Sussex, in which East Sussex local education authority successfully introduced school funding using the FEFC's college funding methodology.
The pilot study said: "School sixth-form funding can and should be more closely matched to the needs and requirements of students and schools and thus have the potential to contribute to raising standards."
The FEFC rejected the government's "option A" - to largely keep the status quo, allowing LEAs funded directly by government to continue to distribute funds to school sixth forms. The FEFC said it preferred the government's "option B" - the only other option on the table - which would hand responsibility for funding school sixth forms to the LSC, although the LEAs would still act as the conduit.
In a separate submission, the FEDA said that disparities between funding for schools and colleges were "wide and unjustifiable".
"We would strongly support the proposals of the government to bring sixth-form funding within scope of a new integrated approach to planning and funding in post-16 provision," the FEDA said in its submission.
"A demand-driven system, based on a national tariff, appears to us to be the best way of ensuring efficiency and equity; but it can only achieve its full potential if all providers are included."
It is understood that both the Local Government Association and the Secondary Heads Association would support greater integration.
Ministers have made clear that while harmonising the funding arrangements would be desirable and "enable the creation of a truly unified post-16 system", it would will not cut sixth-form cash in order to protect small sixth forms from closure.
"The government will ensure that under any new arrangements the present level of funding for any school sixth form will
be at least maintained in real terms, on condition that its student numbers do not fall," the FEDA said.