A Bill to be introduced in the next session of parliament will set up a huge agency, the National Skills and Training Council, to run all education and training post-16 outside universities. It will pave the way for sixth forms and colleges to be funded in the same way.
For the first time, business leaders will be given a say in school and college courses and on whether new sixth forms should open or old ones should close. The new council will take over from the training and enterprise councils, business-led consortiums that run apprenticeships and skills training.
Ministers are considering whether school sixth forms should be paid partly by results in the same way as further education colleges. At present, their funding is determined solely by pupil numbers.
The Bill may also introduce equal funding for all sixth form and college courses. A school sixth former on a two-year course of three A-levels currently receives up to pounds 1,500 a year more in funding than an equivalent student in a sixth form college.
The new arrangements will threaten the future of hundreds of school sixth forms, local authority leaders and heads said yesterday. But the Government denied small sixth forms would close. The Prime Minister is said to be determined that sixth forms, fav-oured by middle-class parents, will be preserved.
David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, wants to end the jumble of competing bodies that provide educating and training post-16 and ensure that young people continue to improve their skills.
A report from the Government's National Skills Task Force published yesterday says that 15 per cent of the 16-year-olds who leave school each year fail to continue with any form of education or training.
Local authority leaders said the changes, to be outlined in a White Paper at the end of next month, would render small sixth forms unviable. They say head teachers often take money intended for younger pupils to subsidise prestigious but inefficient sixth forms.
Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, said the creation of large centres and colleges to replace small school sixth forms would be "the inevitable consequence" of the reforms. "The Government will be reluctant to take on middle England over this. But when students see what is on offer at a sixth form college compared with a sixth form in a school they will vote with their feet."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We would not have a problem with a common funding method provided it does not discriminate. But there's certainly a fear among small sixth forms."
The Department for Education said: "This is not about the closure of school sixth forms. It is about the co-ordination and delivery of lifelong learning, skills, workforce development and improving levels of achievement of young people and adults."
The department would work with local partnerships including heads, college principals, business people and local authority representatives.
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