One of the most short sighted policies that the Conservative led government has pushed through has been the abolition of the Education Maintenance Grant. £30 a week may not sound much to millionaire cabinet ministers, but believe you me, it does to our young people, especially in Tower Hamlets in east London.
All of this comes on top of the massive hike in student fees, and gives the distinct impression that the government isn't particularly interested in young people - or the long term future of the country. Think of it this way - we know that the emerging economies of the east are investing more and more in education and training.
They put a premium on education and understand absolutely that their children are the future. When Britain finally climbs out of recession, will we be able to compete with the rest of the world? At this rate, the answer will be a resounding no!
Just as Margaret Thatcher will be forever remembered as "Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher", for taking away free school milk in the 1970s, so Education Secretary Michael Gove should known as "Gove, Gove, grant dispatcher."
There is no doubt that EMA played an important role in keeping many of our young people in school beyond GCSE here in Tower Hamlets. Before the last Labour government introduced the grant, far too many bright children left school after their GCSEs to work in order to help with the family income. To put this into some perspective, our borough has 57% of children living in poverty, which is the highest rate of child poverty in the UK.
Which is why I am proud to launch the new Mayor's Educational Allowance; a £400 a year grant to young people in our borough who want to continue in education.
76% of children in the borough will be eligible, and the money has been found from our council's reserves. I launched our new policy at a brand new school building at the Sir John Cass School in the heart of Tower Hamlets.
For head teachers, teachers, pupils and the media, the good news is that our initiative has received much broader support. I was particularly pleased that Jonathan Portes, a former Chief Economist at the Cabinet Office and Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research joined us and endorsed what we are doing, and also to hear from The Guardian's Polly Toynbee, who has been at the forefront of the battle to retain the EMA - and who supports our new policy.
Recently we learned that pupils in Tower Hamlets received record results in their GCSEs. The percentage of young people achieving at least five A-C GCSEs has increased from 44% in 2002 to 81% in 2010. These results are precisely why I am determined that the government's skewed sense of priorities is not allowed to throw this enormous achievement into reverse gear.
In summary, the new Mayor's Education Award is designed to augment the 16-19 bursary to the level of the average amount received by learners under EMA. The £400 will be paid in instalments in January and July. And it is for children from low income families, who would have been eligible for the now abolished EMA.
I have decided to make education one of the key priorities of my administration, and hope that the Labour Party nationally will endorse Tower Hamlet's Mayor's Education Award, and hold it up as an example of best practice for Labour councils to follow if they are able.
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