National scheme of LEA awards is needed

7th November 1997 at 00:00
You are right to report the grave concern over ministers considering the abolition of discretionary awards (TES, October 24). Unlike the great majority of the new Government's proposals, this one seems hasty, lacking in intellectual integrity, and without any real concern for a coherent and consistent scheme of student support.

Local authorities have pressed successive governments over many years to back the system of discretionary awards for those over 16, with a national framework giving consistency across the country, and supported by grants to local authorities to enable the national policy to have effect.

No government to date has had the courage to do so, and local authorities have been left to do the best they can. Government spending plans have not been based on any national policy, and have simply reflected the cumulative effect of individual local authority decisions. The intense, and often unfair, pressure in recent years for authorities to maximise spending on schools means that in many areas there has seemed to be no alternative but to reduce "discretionary" expenditure to the point of elimination. The wonder is not that there is such a variation across the country, but that so many LEAs have managed to continue to give any awards at all.

Now we are told that there is concern about the variation in the number and value of awards around the country. The solution proposed is not to reduce the variation but to increase it several-fold by diverting the remaining funding to a multiplicity of institutions. There will be different arrangements for 16 to 19 pupils in schools from those in further education colleges. There is no guarantee that the new arrangements will cover all the institutions at which students are currently supported. There has been no assessment of need, simply a blind assumption that institutional priorities will coincide with student requirements - which is not always borne out in practice.

Ministers and civil servants should think again. If the policy of "excellence for everyone" is to work, everyone, especially the most vulnerable, must have the wherewithal to take advantage of the educational opportunities on offer. A thoroughgoing review is needed with all options being considered, including that of a national scheme of LEA awards.

ANDREW COLLIER General secretary Society of Education Officers 17-21 Chorlton Street Manchester

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