College chooses EMA aid over new buildings

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Classrooms and double glazing shelved in favour of supporting students

A college has been forced to shelve plans for badly needed new classrooms to offer support to students who will lose out when the education maintenance allowance (EMA) is scrapped.

The Government is replacing the pound;500-million-a-year EMA programme with a pound;180 million bursary scheme, which critics claim will deter impoverished students from remaining in education.

Redbridge College in east London, surrounded by some of the most deprived areas in the capital, is to receive just pound;80,000 from the Government to pass on to its neediest students under the new scheme.

As a result, the college has decided to set aside an additional pound;265,000 from its own funding allocation to ensure that all students who would have been eligible for the EMA still receive support.

Principal Theresa Drowley said: "The learners must come first; without them, we're nothing. Without this support, they wouldn't come. Some of our students' families rely on the money, so it's not just the students who would be put at risk."

The money had been set aside for building works this summer, meaning that planned new classrooms for science and Esol (English for speakers of other languages) students have been put on hold.

The college will have to continue using four portable classrooms, which it had hoped would be replaced by a permanent building in time for the new academic year.

"It's not ideal, but we decided these were things you could do afterwards if you had the money," Mrs Drowley added.

The college has already been forced to remodel its premises to squeeze in extra teaching space, with a corridor converted into a dispensary and reception area for its beauty salon.

Mrs Drowley has also been forced to find innovative ways of cutting costs to pay for the student support, such as by only installing new double glazing down one side of another of its corridors.

Currently, 61 per cent of Redbridge students are in receipt of the EMA, which is being scrapped this summer. "If we don't get 61 per cent of our students applying for the funding, we will be able to offer more to the ones who have applied," Mrs Drowley said.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We will be investing pound;180 million per year so that schools and colleges can provide targeted financial support for the most vulnerable 16 to 19-year-olds.

"This is enough to ensure that every child eligible for free school meals who chooses to stay on in education could be paid pound;800 per year - more than many receive under the current EMA arrangements."

Last month, FE Focus revealed that Newcastle College is to create its own maintenance allowance, worth up to pound;600 a year, from college funds, which could cost it up to pound;1 million.

Middlesbrough College, where 67 per cent of students are EMA recipients, is to spend pound;400,000 to help students meet a range of costs.

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