The government’s new student support funding for 16-18 year olds has come far too late to allow 2011/12 students to make informed decisions, says Education Select Committee.

The Committee’s findings accepts that changes to student support needed to be made, but says that the delay in deciding on allocations and the guiding principles for distribution should not have been allowed to happen. The report states that the government should have done more to acknowledge the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) combined impact on participation, attainment and retention, before it decided how to restructure financial support.

Graham Stuart MP, Chairman of the Committee said: “Decisions on how much will be available for distribution by each school or college have been taken far too late, and it is 16 year olds who have suffered uncertainty as a result. That should not have been allowed to happen.”

According to the Committee, the bursary scheme which is to replace the EMA will inevitably lead to inconsistencies which could distort young people’s choices of where to study. It is not persuaded that bursaries administered by schools and colleges will necessarily be fairer or more discriminating than a slimmed-down, more targeted entitlement such as the EMA.

Mr Stuart added: “Young people taking life defining decisions at 16 need clear information on the support they may receive and deserve better than rushed and ill thought through reforms. We accept that changes and savings need to be made but the organisation of the change has been far from smooth.”

The report also highlights the difficulty of transferring data between schools and colleges and encourages the Department for Education to do more to ensure that information about pupils’ needs can move easily between educational institutions. It was also critical of the 74% rate cut to entitlement funding for tutorials and enrichment activities, and said “The Department’s forthcoming review of the funding formula for 16–19 learning should, in assessing the value of every aspect of provision (including qualifications), consider the case for restoring a higher level of entitlement funding.”

 The Committee has said that it supports the government’s focus on apprenticeships but urges it to protect quality at the same time as increasing numbers participating.

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