Colleges and other post-16 providers must work closer and more cooperatively together to overcome "significant weaknesses" in education and training, the inspection agency Ofsted has said.
Area inspections of Salford, Derby and Barking and Dagenham revealed a lack of coordination across post-16 provision, insufficiently consistent and comprehensive guidance for students and examples of poor student achievement and retention rates.
Education and employment secretary David Blunkett has told Ofsted to place a high priority on carrying out area inspections across the country, so they can be used by the Learning and Skills Council to reorganise post-16 provision where necessary.
Early inspections have resulted in the creation of sixth-form centres involving universities as well as colleges.
The consistent message in the latest reports is that colleges, schools and other training providers will have to switch from what has sometimes been fierce competition to adopt a culture of collaboration if they are to make the improvements needed.
Inspectors found that in Salford, there was an "unacceptably high" percentage of young people (17.3 per cent) who were not in education, training or employment.
In Derby, "considerable tensions" between colleges and schools had left the city with no overall strategic plan for post-16 education and training.
In Barking and Dagenham, more sustained cooperation and action was needed between providers to raise post-16 aspirations, as well as participation and attainment rates.