Cuts Are Putting Students Off Education, Says President Of The Association Of Colleges

Cuts 'Are Putting Students Off Education'

Funding cuts, transport costs and losses to careers and information services are still putting students off continuing their education, a college leader warned today.

Those from the poorest homes are the hardest hit, as families are forced to prioritise their spending in tough economic times, according to Maggie Galliers, the new president of the Association of Colleges (AoC).

She said it is difficult to predict how cuts to financial support such as the education maintenance allowance (EMA) would have an impact in the future, but admitted funding will have to stretch further.

Ms Galliers, principal of Leicester College, said there is a range of pressures on participation in further education - "the loss of the EMA, but also the Connexions service (which provided information and careers advice) going and transport costs, all of which get in the way of participation, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"From our own research, it seems to be at that entry level 1 (students who do not have GCSEs at grade C or above) that we're seeing the big difference."

Ms Galliers added that it is difficult to predict the impact of the pressures.

The EMA, which was funding given to the poorest students to help them stay in education, was axed by the Government last year. It was replaced by a new system which allows schools and colleges to decide who should be given extra financial support.

When the EMA was scrapped, some students already eligible for the funding were allowed to continue taking it, but this is being phased out.

Ms Galliers said this funding "will have to stretch further".

"That's one of the reasons why the AoC is running its no free lunches campaign, to highlight the fact that there are 103,000 students in colleges who are missing out on free lunches.

Due to a funding anomaly, 16 to 18-year-olds who would be offered free school meals if they were at a school sixth form or academy are ineligible.

Ms Galliers added: "Clearly everyone in these economic times is struggling, and there's some families for whom they have to prioritise their spending. My greatest concern is that it is those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds."

The college principal welcomed attempts by the Government to simplify the funding system for 16 to 19-year-old students, but she said there were some concerns in the further education sector about the effect of the changes.

Under the new system, colleges will be funded per student with enough money for each youngster to take a certain sized programme of study. Colleges say this could mean that if a student wants to take more qualifications, they will have to cover the cost.

"Sixth form colleges are particularly concerned about whether the new method will take into account the size of some programmes of study, particularly for learners wishing to enter the top universities," Ms Galliers said.

"I think there's a bit more work on that to be sure."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We want all young people to remain in education and training post-16.

"The Education Maintenance Allowance was wasteful and poorly targeted. 45% of all 16 to 19-year-olds received it, including some private school pupils.

"We are taking a much more targeted approach by providing £180 million a year through the 16-19 bursary fund to the young people who most need financial help to continue their studies."

He added that many young people were dissatisfied with the Connexions service and insisted that schools and colleges are being allowed to offer careers advice that suits their pupils.


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