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Lecturers fear abuse of allowance

Sue Jones reports on the studies affecting FE presented at the British Educational Research Association's conference

EDUCATION maintenance allowances are a good idea but open to abuse, according to students and staff at Truro College, Cornwall.

As one of the poorest counties in England, Cornwall was chosen to be one of the original 15 pilot areas for the allowance, a means-tested allowance given by local authorities to 16 to 19-year-olds in post-compulsory education from low-income families. The pilot began in September 1999 and will run for three years.

The allowances are intended to enable poorer students to stay on in education and improve their qualifications rather than start work as soon as they reach 16.

The students receive a weekly payment (up to pound;40 depending on the local scheme) with termly bonuses for regular attendance and a final bonus for successful completion.

Tanya Hope, deputy team leader for humanities at Truro, has investigated the effects so far for her college's students.

Of the students receiving the allowance, 95 per cent clearly understood what it was for and just over half believed that they had directly affected their attendance.

A quarter said that the allowance had influenced their decision to go to college, and to keep going with their course.

Nine out of 0 students supported the idea of the allowance and reported spending their cash on books, stationery, equipment and bus fares. They also said that the money was useful for educational trips and had enabled them to concentrate on studying instead of spending many hours in part-time jobs.

But the tutors did not always see things in such a positive light. Unlike the students, 83 per cent of them thought that the allowance made no difference to attendance. Staff were concerned about fairness and what the money was being spent on - a misgiving that they said was shared by students. There were also worried that a few students would come to college just for the "easy money".

Some staff complained about extra administration. Others were concerned that student self-certification of absences was allowing some to "work the system" and receive their regular cheques without regular attendance.

One comment in the tutor questionnaire summed up positive staff attitudes while voicing a general concern. "I think the allowance is very supportive for the students in general. Their attendance needs to be monitored carefully so that it works.

"For many in my group it is a real help allowing them to pursue a course, which would be financially impossible otherwise. For some it is extra drinks and entertainment money."

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