Bursary changes could see students forced out of school

Thousands of sixth form pupils in north Westminster may be forced to drop out of school after their education maintenance allowance was replaced with a smaller bursary scheme, say critics.

More than 1,500 pupils in the borough received the low-income support grant last year which gave 16 to 19-year-olds up to �30 a week to help them stay in education.

But the government has scrapped the �560million scheme and replaced it with a �180million bursary scheme administered by schools and colleges.

Students most in need – either in care, disabled or claiming income support – will be eligible for a bursary of �1,200 a year while other eligible students will be awarded funds at the discretion of their school.

However, the schools are faced with a dramatically reduced budget compared to the amount previously given out in education maintenance allowance (EMA).

Westminster Academy has been allocated just �15,580 for the coming year, with an estimated 82 pupils eligible for the bursary scheme – the equivalent of just over �5 a week per pupil.

City of Westminster College expects to have around 600 students eligible for the scheme, who will receive just over �8 a week.

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College principal Keith Cowell said: “It’s surely going to have a negative effect on attendance.

“More students will drop out than when they were receiving EMA because there’s no financial incentive to stay in education now.

“A lot of students will have to drop out through necessity. They will find it difficult to buy all the things they need to go to college and it’s particularly hard in London because of the cost of travel.”

Paddington Academy has been allocated �44,000 for the bursary scheme, Quintin Kynaston has been given �46,930, and St Marylebone �22,990.

All of the schools are likely to have between 150 and 300 pupils eligible for funding.

Westminster North MP Karen Buck said the cuts are “short-sighted and destructive” and do not focus on keeping people in education.

She said: “Schools and colleges face an awful choice – removing all support from the children of low income working families, who may have been receiving �10 or �20 under the old EMA scheme, or slash support for the very poorest, who were entitled to up to �30 a week.

“Combined with soaring youth unemployment, the inadequate number of apprenticeships, punitive higher education fees and cuts to youth services, it is hardly surprising that there is real distress amongst so many young people.”