A battle loomed this week for a share of about Pounds 6 billion earmarked for post-16 education and training as colleges, schools and training providers responded to the plans for learning and skills councils.
College principals, school heads and training and enterprise council chiefs welcomed proposals for a unified funding regime under the councils, contained in two consultation papers published two weeks ago.
But they warned that they would fight for a fair share of the budget and to protect and enhance their funding levels.
The funding system is scheduled to apply to all further education and sixth-form colleges and to private training providers from April next year. It will extend to school sixth-forms from 2002.
Up to 90 per cent of the cash will be distributed according to a national formula, which includes a programme weighting. It is still expected to prove simpler than the current FE funding method.
In an initial response, the TEC national council urged the government to ensure that private training providers, including employers, received as much capital expenditure and development support under the formula as colleges and schools.
"The system cannot possibly deliver on its key principles of equality of opportunity and social inclusion if work-based learning provision is starved of public investment compared with institutional providers of post-16 education," the TEC council said.
The local councils must ensure that post-16 resources are linked to market need and relevance. "The whole of the budget must clearly be accessible to any provider who can meet the required quality and agreed need," the council added.
The Association of Colleges warned that it was likely to oppose major shifts in the distribution of resources.
John Brennan, AoC head of development, said: "Our members must look critically at what is being proposed. We need to see what the effect of the proposals will be on the distribution of real money. If it is to shift large amounts around, we might want to know how it is justified."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called on ministers to question assumptions that school sixth-forms were better funded than colleges.
"We would be concerned if distorted figures were used to justify levelling college funding up rather than recognising the needs of school sixth-forms. Ministers should recognise that there is a range of factors to consider, including the fact that colleges can generate money from other sources," he said.
* The proposed inspection regime for post-16 education and training must use clear and explicit criteria for grading the quality of provision, the AoC has said. Delegates at a consultation conference on the proposals last week called for a transparent system that takes account of colleges' own quality evaluations in awarding grades on a five or seven-point scale.