March 28, 2011 11:15 pm

Gove unveils bursaries for needy students

A £180m package aimed at helping the most vulnerable 16- to 19-year-olds, and those from poorer families, to stay in education has been announced by Michael Gove, education secretary.

The scheme, including the payment of bursaries costing about £15m a year, follows the government’s decision to scrap the education maintenance allowance. It was described as “a humiliating climbdown” by Andy Burnham, Labour’s education spokesman.

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The new bursaries consist of a guaranteed annual payment of £1,200 to about 12,000 16 to 19-year-olds who are in care, have left care or are on income support.

The remaining £165m will provide a fund that schools and colleges can spend on a discretionary basis, with college principals able to decide the level of grant, how frequently it is paid and any conditions attached, such as behaviour or attendance.

The £180m is a third of the £560m spent on education maintenance allowance (EMA), which paid up to £30 a week to 650,000 young people, or about 45 per cent of students. The new scheme will go to about 15 per cent, essentially covering those eligible for free school meals.

About £26m of the cost is said to be coming from an existing discretionary fund to aid poorer students, £70m from the Treasury and the rest from other parts of the education budget.

Mr Gove, who has been bruised by an embarrassing U-turn on school sports funding and whose reputation suffered over the way the modernisation programme, Building Schools for the Future, was cut back, said he would consult on the new package.

But by “making sure fewer people receive it, we can make sure that those who really need it receive more”, he said.

Transitional arrangements will provide some protection for those already receiving EMA.

Mr Burnham said spending had still been cut by two-thirds, and added that the education secretary “has taken a successful policy which has improved attendance and achievement and turned it into a total shambles”.

The National Union of Teachers said the package was “nowhere near enough”. But the Association of School and College Leaders said it would “still go a fair way towards helping the most disadvantaged students”.

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